Light rail lobbied here: Northstar officials say option benefits Minnesota

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 3, 2002

The relevance of a 82-mile commuter rail north of Minneapolis to residents in Mower County may seem miniscule.

But representatives of the Northstar Corridor Commuter Rail think otherwise.

The commuter rail is relying on state money to fund $120 million of the project. Without that state aid, the rail would not be eligible for a federal dollars that would match the state's contribution.

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Paul McCarron and Jeff Dehler, representatives of the Northstar Corridor Development Authority, visited Austin and Owatonna last week to show how the rail would benefit this area.

The Northstar Corridor Commuter Rail is a proposed 82-mile public rail link owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Rail that would connect Minneapolis, St. Cloud and smaller towns in between. The population in that area has been growing and proponents of the rail line expect three million riders annually.

One of the benefits the McCarron and Dehler see in this rail line is that it will reduce congestion in areas with heavy commuter traffic. That will allow trucks hauling goods from all over the state to move more quickly through the Twin Cities, McCarron said.

However, congestion south of the Cities wouldn't change too much until more rail is built in other areas.

"It costs money," McCarron said to build more rail links in other areas of the metro area.

Some critics have said that using state dollars for the rail will take away from money that could be used to replace roads and bridges throughout the state.

However, $120 million would pay for only about four miles of road, McCarron said. To upgrade the highway between St. Cloud and Minneapolis would cost about $1 billion.

"I don't think it takes away from the highway," McCarron said of the commuter rail.

About $30 million for the project will come from taxes in that area, another $120 million would come from the state and the federal government would kick in $151 million. For every 50 cents the state spends, the federal government will match it will 84 cents, McCarron said.

Brian Jergenson, Minnesota Department of Transportation's southeastern Minnesota public affairs coordinator, said that it would be better for the state to fund $120 million of the project so that the project could get that federal money and not tap into any more state resources that could affect funding for roads and bridges.

The rail is also expected to help the economy because more people will be able to take jobs further from home without worrying about high transportation costs, McCarron said.

"This is an integrated economy," McCarron said. "This is something that helps that economy."

McCarron said the future of transportation needs to be addressed before it becomes a problem.

"By ignoring the future, you ignore the needs of our children and grandchildren," McCarron said.

Jergenson said the Minnesota Department of Transportation supports all types of transportation.

"Our goal is to provide more choices for people in Minnesota," Jergenson said.

Cari Quam can be reached at 434-2235 or by e-mail at