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County puts spike in Zip Rail project

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Chuck Michael

Olmsted County's participation in plans for a high-speed rail, or Zip Rail, connection between Rochester and Minneapolis came quietly to its last stop on Tuesday, after the county spent more than $2 million on the idea.

The Olmsted Board of County Commissioners, acting as the Olmsted County Railroad Authority, unanimously approved a resolution suspended indefinitely future work on the Twin Cities-Rochester Passenger Rail Corridor Investment Plan.

The county in 2012 agreed to a $2 million contract with consultant

Parsons Brinckerhoff, Inc.

The contract was funded by a $2 million Minnesota Department of Transportation Grant, which used about $300,000 Olmsted County local matching funds.

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At Tuesday's meeting, County Administrator Richard Devlin praised the county leadership for pursuing the opportunity. There was public money available, interest in the community and a practical course to proceed, Devlin said.

Those conditions have all but evaporated.

"Today, I must say that the Governor's Office has been kind of tepid at best on this high-speed rail. The Legislature has actually been doing the opposite — trying to kill it. Mayo (Clinic) pays no attention to it. We're dead in the water. Really honestly, we're dead in the water," Devlin said.

Chuck Michael, a consultant the county contracted with through the railroad authority, said the plans had advanced to a

logical stopping point

for the county.

"This is a generational project and not likely to be done overnight, certainly," Michael said. "You got the ball rolling and we certainly understand what the issues are out there. It's going to take some time and it's going to take some money to get further in the process."

Michael has

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also contracted

with North American High Speed Rail Group, a private company that has pursued a $4.2 billion build-out of the Rochester to Minneapolis connection.

Devlin said he hoped to see the rail connection become a reality, likely as part of a larger connection between Minneapolis and Chicago.

'Very honestly, I hope as an elder in this community now, that sometime, someday, there will be a high speed rail between Minneapolis and Chicago and that Rochester will be a focal point for that," Devlin said.

Commissioner Sheila Kiscaden, who said she had worked intensely with high speed rail earlier in her career, was disappointed the public support for high-speed rail had dried up, here and elsewhere in the country.

"It's really tragic that as one of the strongest economies in the world, we (the U.S.) have refused to invest in an energy-efficient system that can move people well," Kiscaden said.

The rail authority's resolution to pause work on the project also authorized a final payment of $34,928.63 to Parsons Brinckerhoff, bringing the total amount paid to the contractor to $2,013,245.

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