Friday, November 12, 2010

What does Minnesota think of losing their frequent rail connections?

Although many anti-rail folks seem to forget this fact, the Madison-Milwaukee rail project, that Gov-elect Walker is determined to stop, is but one piece of a larger system, one that would run Chicago<-->Milwaukee<-->Madison<-->Twin Cities. If this piece doesn't go through, there is no future link between Madison and Minnesota, or from the Twin Cities to Milwaukee or Chicago, except for the once-a-day Empire Builder, which runs at a relatively slow speed and is often delayed on its way from Seattle.

Minnesota was counting on a fast, frequent service to he other cities in the Midwest, a link to research, business, and tourist destinations in Madison, Milwaukee, and Chicago. Sure, you can fly, but what a pain, and expensive if you want to make a last-minute trip. Who wants to deal with airport traffic and parking, security, check-in, weather delays, not to mention a huge carbon footprint, when you could step onto a train and step off in your downtown location, all while getting some work done?

So what are the Minnesota news sources saying about Walker's stance?

The Winona Daily News says that the joint MNDOT is moving ahead with a request for proposals to study a route between the Twin Cities and Madison, possibly passing through Winona. Minnesota received $600,000 for the study from the federal government, and both MN and WI were supposed to kick in another $300,000 each. Is that on the chopping block as well? Minnesota is plowing ahead on their end at least.

The Pierce County Herald also points out that Walker's decision would doom the expansion to Minnesota. Both LaCrosse and Eau Claire are hoping the rail line passes through their cities, because they know that will bring economic development and jobs, but the boosters in each city are united in the desire to see the rail expansion happen, regardless of the route.

One reason we may not have heard much from Minnesota is that they have other things on their minds since the election. They don't know who their new governor will be, since the race is still too close to call.

Minnesota also lost both a strong advocate for rail and considerable power on transportation issues when Rep. James Obestar, currently the Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was defeated. He had pushed not just the Chicago-Twin Cities line, but also the Northern Lights Express, passenger rail service to his home district in Duluth.

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