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High Speed Rail? Minnesota Blows It Again

Category: Transportation
Posted: 01/28/10 16:38

by Dave Mindeman

When it comes to future economic activity, I assumed that we had gotten beyond the debate about rail. Rail travel is going to be part of the mix in 21st century travel. But unless Minnesota competes for Federal dollars now, we will be left begging for crumbs in the future.

Minnesota is not off to a good start. The Central Corridor light rail situation is hopelessly entangled in turf arguments. Future rail is getting bashed by Republican demagoguery. And now, right now, we are missing out on full Federal backing for high speed rail.

This rail network is going to happen. The funds are being doled out now, and Minnesota is in the mix....but at the end of the line.

Minnesota couldn't make a decision on a route for high-speed rail service to Chicago, so today the federal government gave it the equivalent of the home version of its "let's build high-speed rail" game: $1 million to "study" the situation. It put itself in a position to do little else, and got a little more than half of what it had asked.

$1 milllion for a study? That's like saying..."thanks for trying, we'll put you on our mailing list."

To me, the logical route to promote was the one through Rochester. It probably would have cost more initially, but it would have connected up the major population centers and it would have allowed true "high speed" travel. The river route would have made use of the older track but the speed would have been reduced because of the winding path.

So, we are still viable but we blew the immediate impact.

Pawlenty provided no leadership. McCollum insisted on the river route which made comparisons and discussion with the Rochester side difficult. And the Rochester advocates would not compromise either.

Thanks everybody for the great leadership. Maybe we can get some of that rail money in the future...when it will get us less and cost us more.
comments (4) permalink
01/29/10 12:38
Thank you for calling this for what it is. The problem that we have in Minnesota is that we are truly awful at getting anything done.

As someone who has been a critic of the Central Corridor project from the beginning, I would like to offer my view. I would never call this a "turf war". What we are seeing is the result of a terrible failure of leadership, engineering, and planning that made this project rotten at the core. That's why I said as long ago as 2003 that it will never be built, and I stand by that.

It's the same problem that you cite here - we are lousy at getting these things moving.

In the case of the Central Corridor, part of the blame has to lie with URS, the engineering firm - which is also being sued by MnDOT for their role in the I-35W bridge collapse. This shows you how incestuous things are, which goes some way to explaining the problem.

We desperately need new leadership. If Portland Oregon can install a streetcar line in 3 years from design to open, why does it take us 20 years to get the Central Corridor into a rathole?

The latest screwup with the High Speed line to Chicago is just one more blunder showing the real problem. It's time for progressives to unite and INSIST ON BETTER! We must stop making excuses for people who obvious have no idea what the Hell they are doing and GET THIS DONE!
01/29/10 12:08
I blogged about this back the River/Rochester conflict back in March of 2009. State leadership could have, and should have, been prepared.
01/29/10 11:57
We may not have known 18 months ago, but Obama was pretty clear about it 12 months ago. The arguments regarding the river corridor and the Rochester one have been ongoing all during that time. A modicum of consensus could have put us higher on the list for dedicated dollars. The infighting can only delay things... and all too often time is money...more money. I hope you are right, but past history does not build my confidence.
01/29/10 11:40
I very much disagree with your assessment of how Minnesota faired with the ARRA money for high-speed rail. Let's be real.. the Madison to St. Paul leg of the high-speed rail plan from Chicago to St. Paul is not ready for major federal dollars. Environmental assessment and local planning has not been done yet and the purpose of this money is to get it spent and create jobs in the short term. The great news is that almost one billion dollars will go to build out the line to Madison and the one million to fund the studies for the rest of the route will put us in a position to benefit from the second wave of funds (note that Obama has an additional 2.5 billion in his budget for high-speed rail and wants a major long-term commitment). In my opinion, this was the best we could have hoped for and puts us in a great position. While I would have loved to have been in a position to build out the line today, who knew 18 months ago that we would have such an influx of federal money for high-speed rail and a President who has made it a top priority? We are now on the fast track and given the initial investment into the route made this week, I think we will have high-speed rail very soon.


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