Dear Answer Man, will you answer this once and for all: Is Zip Rail dead or is it not dead?
But what if Zip Rail just looks dead and is a zombie, just waiting for the right moment to get back on track?
At some point down the road, some brave souls may try another plan for a high-speed passenger train between Rochester and the Twin Cities. But I guarantee you that if they do, it won't be called Zip Rail. That name has been rendered unusable by opponents of the project. Its only value now is as a political bogeyman.
I'm so certain of this that if you clip and save this column and one day a new plan comes out for a Twin Cities-to-Rochester commuter train and they call it Zip Rail, I owe you a doughnut.
Here's what the MnDOT website says about Zip Rail: "MnDOT suspended work on the Zip Rail project in January 2016. No future work on this project is anticipated at this point."
That language has some loopholes, but everyone involved knows Zip Rail was rendered toxic by opponents, including many farmers and land owners along the highly theoretical route for a rail project that was decades away from happening and would have cost billions, from a source unknown
The Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority, which was working with MnDOT on the idea, voted in January 2016 to drop the idea.
That's not enough for Zip Rail opponents such as Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who wants to insert language into a bill to drive yet another stake through the project, removing any reference to Zip Rail in the state rail plain. Drazkowski previously has tried to link Zip Rail to limiting Rochester and Olmsted County's options with Destination Medical Center.
Zip Rail opponents in Dodge County also drove another stake through it last month at a meeting of the Dodge County Rail Authority, reaffirming a three-year-old resolution against the long-defunct project.
To repeat: There's no one in a position of authority regarding trains, planes or automobiles who believes Zip Rail is undead. It's dead.
On Saturday, I asked state Sen. Dave Senjem, among top Republicans in the Legislature, if Zip Rail is dead. He said by email, "Yes, in my opinion it is dead and has for the most part never had life.
"It had a figment of life maybe 10 years ago when when President Obama announced that he was making $8 billion available for high speed rail across the country. There was discussion on a link from Chicago to the Twin Cities, and part of that discussion involved going through Rochester. When Gov. Scott Walker declared high speed rail off-limits in Wisconsin, it was the end of any discussion with money associated with it...
"Yes, it is dead. There is no money and the Zip proponents have made it an almost political impossibility, even if somehow, some way, money became available. I know if I put $100 million for high-speed rail in a bonding bill, it would never get the votes to pass."
But I asked Senjem's Rochester Republican colleague, Sen. Carla Nelson, and she says Zip Rail is more in the zombie category. "Nothing is dead until the gavel drops and we adjourn sine die, which is the first first Monday after the third Saturday in an even year -- May 21, 2018.
"Of course, there is always the next legislative session, at which time anything can happen."
That said, my offer stands. If Zip Rail comes back from the dead, I owe you a doughnut. I might even ask Hanisch Bakery in Red Wing to make a special jelly-filled Zip Rail long john for the occasion.
What do I win if it remains dead as a doornail? Your continued loyalty and devotion.