Students fighting Anoka rail decision

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • December 7, 2012 - 8:38 PM

College students hope to pressure Anoka County leaders on Saturday into resuming support for a proposed $1 billion passenger rail line from Minneapolis to Duluth.

Students from the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) will stage press conferences in Duluth, Hinckley and St. Paul. But it is at a 3 p.m. rally at the Foley Boulevard Metro Transit Station in Coon Rapids where the students hope to begin a drive that will ultimately persuade Anoka County officials, who withdrew from the alliance supporting the line in June, to reverse their decision.

"We are excited to stand in coalition as young people from across Minnesota who are ready to move on the transit conversation of investing in high-speed rail," said Dakotah Johnson, a 2007 University of Minnesota graduate and the event organizer. "We're not sure why Anoka County is not on board with what young people are excited about."

Once key proponents of the Northern Lights Express (NLX) line and active supporters for six years, Anoka County leaders began questioning the line's costs last year after a block of fiscal conservatives took control of the County Board. Commissioner Matt Look replaced Dan Erhart, a long-time rail advocate, as chair of the county's rail committee. Erhart, a commissioner since 1983, lost his bid for re-election to the board in November.

Look -- who in June said, "NLX is a gamble I'm not willing to take" -- was surprised to learn of Saturday's student rally in Coon Rapids.

"Hey, I wish them well," he said, but questioned the need for the press conference.

When the Anoka County Board withdrew support, Bob Manzoline, executive director of the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Passenger Rail Alliance, said that the county "isn't looking at the big picture." John Ongaro, director of intergovernmental affairs in St. Louis County, blamed Anoka County's decision on politics.

"We're optimistic," Johnson said. She said that students "are ready to stand up for and with the leaders who are working for transit solutions."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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