The election is over, and many new faces will take their places at the Capitol in St. Paul on Jan. 8, 2013. I am filled with optimism at the beginning of a new Minnesota legislative session; I believe new perspectives will overcome the challenges we face in our state.
To my friends in the Legislature: Minnesota High-Speed Rail is an issue you probably didn’t hear much about as you knocked on doors this fall. To residents of Minnesota, here are two reasons why the issue is important:
nMore than a million trips are taken annually between Chicago and the Twin Cities by air, with more than 10 million trips taken by car. That number will only grow since Minnesota is home to 20 Fortune 500 companies, and the number of jobs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area is expected to grow by 34 percent by 2040.
nBetween St. Paul and Hastings, growth in freight hauled by train is expected to grow by 36 percent over the current 118 trains per day in the next 10 years.
Investing in rail infrastructure will move people and freight between the Twin Cities and Chicago more quickly, more efficiently and with much less harm to the environment.
In 2009, the legislature designated $26 million in bond funds for rail projects. The following year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) commissioned a study to address the outstanding governance and funding issues identified in the Minnesota Comprehensive Statewide Freight and Passenger Rail Plan. It found a number of policy issues that require legislative revision and a need for an additional $27 million in bonding authority to meet the immediate needs of the plan.
This funding will be critical for the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Project to support the current studies being undertaken by MnDOT, as well as to fund the staff at MnDOT who are overseeing the consultant’s work.
The project, which would provide frequent passenger train service at up to 110 miles per hour between the Twin Cities, Milwaukee and Chicago, would provide a safe and competitive transportation alternative to cars and planes, would save money and help our environment and would grow our economy.
High-speed rail expands the opportunities for business people, families and senior citizens to travel to great destinations within the Mississippi River Route, between St. Paul and La Crescent, as well as access to the hub in Chicago with connections to St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Detroit. This investment increases the speed and frequency of passenger service and increases freight rail capacity, avoiding more expensive truck transport. The project is forecast to provide up to $2.3 billion in economic benefits for the state and would create 1,600 permanent jobs and 15,000 construction jobs in Minnesota.
Just as new senators and representatives are taking their seats at the Legislature, the same is true here in Winona. I chose not to run for re-election and will be leaving my position as chair of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission. I am confident that legislators will find the new chair ready to answer your questions when members of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission visit with you this winter and spring to advocate for MnDOT’s request for policy revisions and bonding funds. More information is at www.mnhighspeedrail.com.
Jerry Miller is mayor of Winona and chairman of the Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission.