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Planning money sought for high-speed rail line through Rochester, Minn.

(The following story by Heather J. Carlson appeared on the Post-Bulletin website on January 15, 2009.)

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Rochester-area lawmakers are once again trying to get $500,000 to study a possible high-speed rail line from Chicago to the Twin Cities via Rochester.

Rep. Tina Liebling filed a bill for the planning dollars this week in the House. The Rochester Democrat said it makes sense to consider including Rochester in the plan, especially given that it is home to Mayo Clinic. As public transportation becomes more important, it is vital that clinic patients have access to high-speed rail, Liebling said.

"Mayo is the largest private employer in the state. The vitality of this business should be the concern of everybody in the state," she said.

Sen. Ann Lynch, DFL-Rochester, is sponsoring a similar bill in the Senate.

While the proposal has broad support among Rochester-area lawmakers -- both Republican and Democratic -- others are speaking out against the plan. A coalition of cities along the Mississippi River, including Winona, have passed resolutions in favor of having the high-speed rail line follow the existing Amtrak route along the river. They argue that the Amtrak route would be far less costly and could be built much faster. Last week, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, whose district includes St. Paul, voiced support for the river route and vowed to fight efforts to change the route to include Rochester.

A similar proposal for $500,000 in planning money was vetoed last session by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. In a letter to lawmakers, Pawlenty said the planning should be part of a statewide rail plan.

Meanwhile, the recently formed Southeast Minnesota Rail Alliance is lobbying hard to get Rochester considered as a stop for the route. The alliance includes Mayo Clinic, the city of Rochester, Olmsted County and Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

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