High-speed rail will come to Minnesota sooner than people might think, nearly two dozen elected officials said Monday outside Union Depot in St. Paul.
Gathered to show their solidarity for high-speed-train service linking St. Paul and Chicago, the officials said the proposed 400-mile route will create 1,600 permanent new jobs in Minnesota.
"We're doing this for the economic health of the region," said state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul.
Absent from Monday's gathering of the new On Board Midwest coalition was any mention of Rochester's efforts to steer the high-speed line through that city. Elected officials there have their own coalition, the Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance, to lobby for a direct connection to the Twin Cities. They argue that the Mayo Clinic's drawing power makes Rochester a required destination.
Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester, said in a separate interview Monday that the Minnesota Department of Transportation should be allowed to complete a statewide study to determine the best route for a high-speed rail line. Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered the study this month.
"Think of how silly it is that we would make decisions of this magnitude based on news conferences and fliers or whoever speaks the loudest or the fastest," said Lynch, who thinks Rochester will fare well in the study.
But On Board Midwest advocates said the Amtrak route from St. Paul through Ramsey, Washington, Dakota and other southeast counties makes better sense because it already has a needed federal designation and existing tracks and right of ways. They envision that six daily high-speed round trips to Chicago will bring millions of dollars in economic development along the corridor, particularly in cities with rail stations.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said that planning for high-speed rail now is moving fast enough that trains could be in operation when the Central Corridor light-rail line starts running on University Avenue between St. Paul and Minneapolis. Construction of the Central Corridor begins in 2010, with trains projected to run in 2014.
"Not only is this possible, but it will happen in just a few years," said Coleman, who with U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum and others described how President Obama has created a favorable climate for high-speed rail.
The Minnesota portion of the route, if it follows the Amtrak corridor, would require an estimated $314 million for infrastructure improvements, including double track in some areas and safety upgrades at road crossings. Minnesota also might have to pay $60 million for locomotives and passenger coaches.
High-speed-rail supporters hope to get $20 million in this year's bonding bill to contribute toward the cost, Hausman said. The rest would come from federal stimulus money.
Kevin Giles • 612-673-4432