Mayo Clinic sees opportunity in high speed rail line

(The following story by Jeffrey Pieters appeared on the Post-Bulletin website on May 8, 2009.)

ROCHESTER, Minn. Rochester area officials have been quietly shaping a route for high-speed passenger rail that goes to Rochester International Airport, runs west to Owatonna and then north to the Twin Cities, the Post-Bulletin has learned.

Officials representing Mayo Clinic, Rochester and Olmsted County have been holding low-profile meetings with rural officials in Olmsted and Dodge counties to build support for the rail plan.

Mayo has been holding meetings with township officials about the line.

"We're just out in conversation with the folks in the townships and wanting them to be aware of the opportunity and what we're trying to accomplish, and trying to bring them into the conversation," Gade said.

Mayo and Rochester have been involved in trying to plot a rural rail line before. Some residents were reminded of Rochester's 1998 proposal to re-route the DM&E line around the south side of the city. Landowners' five-year fight to block that 34-mile route was costly ($80,000 paid and raised by the landowners themselves) and bitter.

The new proposal "sure sounds like the same route to me," said Ken Oehlke, a High Forest Township supervisor who attended a meeting Monday morning at the Rochester Township Hall.

Mayo officials tried to set up an individual meeting this week with Kathy King, past president of the citizens group that fought the bypass, but she declined, saying that she wanted other members of her group to be present if she met.

Earlier this year, King and other rural residents spoke out against Olmsted County's formation of a regional railroad authority. The authority has power to levy up to a $6 million tax and to condemn land for rail-building purposes. The county board approved the authority on a 5-2 vote.

County Board Chairman Matt Flynn, who voted against adopting the railroad authority and opposed the 1998 bypass proposal, said he was aware of the recent discussions but unable to speak about them because he had subscribed to a confidentiality agreement.

Whatever kind of rail development plan comes forward, Flynn said, "I want to make sure it's fair and common sense is involved."

Friday, May 8, 2009

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