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.

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(6) comments

Hive

Pawlenty's and Minnesota GOP's insistence on funding car and bus transportation instead of rail and metro street cars always puzzled me; Miller's self seeking promo for high speed rail to go through Winona is equally as dim, and a decade late at best.

High speed rail will begin at some point in the next 20 years and that plan will run the right of way though Rochester, as it should. It is easier and the Rochester community lends itself to that effort more than any southern Minnesota community.

Hasn't our city already wasted considerable sums on string and balloon gimmicks with Wilson Township and the Phillips expansion (which has brought the city few return dollars, if any, in return.)?

Forget this, and Miller!

Jerry Miller is not the brightest guy in the city, but he doesn't have to keep proving it.

justareader

He's done petty well for being such a "dim" person.

Hive

Reference was (obviously) to his governance. Read his quotes. Dim as dirt, IMO. As to the rest, like anyone else...

killallthelawyersfirst

I must agree with Mr. Hive. Mayor Miller is a nice person, but his tenure has been a low keyed disaster and is disturbing. He is one of our own, or was. Am guessing he meant well, but he lacked convictions and a vision to resist local money.

Leslie Hittner

I have a difficult time thinking of 110 mph trains that stop at communities every 30 miles or so as "high speed rail." I also don't believe that adding one or two trains a day between the twins and Chicago constitutes a railroad passenger system. We turned away from passenger rail after WWII and undoing that error will require this country - not just this state - to make a considerable investment in money and rail infrastructure and system design. Until that collective decision can be arrived at and until the costs of that decision can be justified, "high speed rail" and passenger rail service in general in this country will always be a joke.

The Union Depot in St. Paul was recently re-commissioned as a passenger train depot. The building - originally built to service hundreds of trains a day - will now serve the Empire Builder - two trains a day.

Hive

I'll buy that, but add in the commuter lines, like NorthStar etc, s, if they receive funding.

You are right about hi-speed and frequent stops. Miller has not a clue or is hustling for more traffic (money) which is not only self-serving phony cronyism, but unnecessary as the string and balloon idiocy Sorensen sold the very unprepared city councils...

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