Northstar Rail supporters celebrate $157 million federal award

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The Northstar Commuter Rail project has another $157 million in the bank as of Tuesday morning. A signing ceremony in Anoka that activated a federal funding agreement to pay about half the costs of constructing the 40-mile transit line.

The commuter rail line will connect downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake beginning in 2009. It’ll make six round trips every weekday, stopping in Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids and Fridley and delivering passengers end-to-end in about 40 minutes.

State, federal and local officials, including Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, met at the Anoka County Government Center at 8 a.m. on Dec. 11 for the ceremony.

The federal funding agreement also unlocks another $97.5 million in state bonding money for construction and trains. The entire project will cost about $320 million, with other funds coming from Anoka, Hennepin and Sherburne counties, Metropolitan Council and the Minnesota Twins.

Construction is already underway on infrastructure at both ends of the route. A connection stop in downtown Minneapolis will let riders hop off at the stadium or transfer to the Hiawatha Light-Rail Line to the airport and Mall of America.

While Northstar’s funding is now on track, other transit projects are still waiting for support. They include the proposed Central Corridor light-rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul and a Southwest light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

Transit lobbyists are gearing up for another funding battle at the Legislature next year. Pawlenty vetoed a major transportation bill last session that would have given a big boost to transit. There are rumblings of an override attempt or a similar bill landing on his desk next year. That drama was foreshadowed in comments about Pawlenty’s appearance.

“It’s great that Governor Pawlenty is on board with the Northstar line, but this line is only one piece of our transportation puzzle,” said Dave Van Hattum, program manager at St. Paul advocacy group Transit for Livable Communities, in a press release. “We need a stable, secure source of funding to make sure that we can pay for the growth in the existing system and to build new commuter and light-rail lines. Northstar shouldn’t be the endgame; it should be the catalyst for a 21st century transportation system in this state.”

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