MnDOT heads on the right track

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by Conrad deFiebre | August 4, 2009 • In its strongest show of support yet for non-highway mobility, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has announced plans to seek $382 million in federal funds for four transit and intercity rail projects. All would compete nationally for a share of $8 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds tabbed for passenger rail projects.

Hindsight is the official blog of Minnesota 2020. Hindsight gives the run down on the news that jumps out at us on the issues that matter. Often times these stories show us how much further we need to go to have the progressive policy realized in Minnesota.

First up is a $137 million bid for final design and construction of the St. Paul Union Depot multimodal transit hub, which would unite bus service, light rail, commuter rail and fast passenger rail to Chicago in the remodeled historic Lowertown terminal. MnDOT said its application will be filed by an Aug. 24 deadline; awards are scheduled to be made in September. The project could be completed within two years, meeting ARRA guidelines, MnDOT said.

Another two-year project under consideration by MnDOT for a spring 2010 funding application is extending the Northstar commuter rail line to St. Cloud. Northstar Phase I will begin service on BNSF tracks from Minneapolis to Big Lake in November. Final design and construction of Phase II to St. Cloud is estimated to cost $150 million.

MnDOT also will apply by Oct. 2 for $50 million toward environmental work and preliminary design and engineering of the Minnesota portion of the Midwest Regional Rail Initiative linking the Twin Cities and Chicago via passenger trains traveling up to 110 m.p.h. A $45 million preliminary design bid for another fast rail proposal, the Northern Lights Express between Minneapolis and Duluth, will be considered next spring, MnDOT said.

Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel said all four projects have drawn public support at MnDOT forums aimed at drafting a statewide rail plan. “It was clearly a community effort,” he said. Kudos to MnDOT for finally listening to community voices that have been calling for years for modern travel alternatives to driving.

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