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High-speed train from Chicago: Next stop, Minneapolis?

(The following story by Mary Jane Smetanka appeared on the Star Tribune website on March 6, 2009.)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. With $8 billion in the federal stimulus package devoted to high-speed rail projects, supporters of the long-planned high-speed train from Chicago to St. Paul are scrambling to prepare a proposal strong enough to grab some of that money.

But a new player has entered the picture: Hennepin County, which wants the high-speed line extended to Minneapolis.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin convinced his county board colleagues last week to pass by a 6-1 vote a resolution asking that "appropriate proposals" be developed to include Minneapolis in the high-speed route.

"The world changed when $8 billion appeared," McLaughlin said. "To continue marching to the same drum before $8 billion became available is short-sighted and ultimately will cause problems. ...

"This is the moment to be defining the big vision, and we should be defining it expansively. You don't want to have to go back and beg the federal government to add [Minneapolis] back. It's just bad strategy."

Not so fast, says Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough.

After years of planning for the $1.2 billion Chicago-to-St. Paul line, he said he is willing to study extending the line to Minneapolis and is continuing to talk with McLaughlin about that. But he thinks the line should remain the Chicago-to-St. Paul high-speed line.

"We need to come to agreement as soon as possible," McDonough said. "But I just can't agree that it makes sense to automatically add Minneapolis. I need the numbers, what the investment is, what the ridership would be, or are there other investments that could strengthen the whole system."

The debate is more than a spat between the east and west metro, which have battled over transportation spending before. With the sudden potential to turn dreams of high-speed rail into reality, Rochester also is pushing hard to have the federally designated route moved to pass through that city.

Monday, March 9, 2009

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