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Rochester mayor urges governor to move rail project ahead

Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede is urging state officials to move ahead on an agreement with a private company looking to build a high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities.

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Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede is urging state officials to move ahead on an agreement with a private company looking to build a high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities.

Brede said he personally talked with Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charlie Zelle and Gov. Mark Dayton about the issue nearly two weeks ago after a dedication of the U.S. Highway 14 expansion in Owatonna. He said there's concern that that the North American High Speed Rail Group may give up on their plans to build the rail line in Minnesota if it takes too long to get approval to study it. He noted the company is also in negotiations to build a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

"There is some concern that they would say, 'You guys have diddled around too long in Minnesota, you don't get anything done, so we'd better go take our ball and go home and play some other place,'" Brede said.

The company wants to build an 84-mile, elevated, high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities. The $4.2 billion project would be funded by Chinese and U.S. investors. The rail group wants the state to grant it exclusive negotiating rights for two years to air space along portions of Minnesota Highway 55, U.S. Highway 52, U.S. Highway 63 and Interstate 90.

The group has been in talks with MnDOT about the agreement for months. Emails obtained from MnDOT by the Post-Bulletin under the Minnesota Data Practices Act highlight the rail group's growing frustration with the pace of discussions and the inability to get a meeting with the governor. Rail group CEO Joseph Sperber sent an email to MnDOT Chief of Staff Eric Davis on June 19 in which he wrote, "It is getting difficult to convince our investors the State of Minnesota really wants to do this."

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The project has its share of critics. Members of Citizens Concerned About Rail Line have voiced concerns that the project could hurt their property values and end up costing taxpayers more money. All this discussion comes as MnDOT officials say they are considering hitting the "pause button" on plans for a proposed publicly-funded, high-speed rail line known as Zip Rail.

Brede said he supports efforts to let the private group study the idea of building a high-speed rail line. He added that such a line would be especially valuable when it comes to air travel. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is no longer able to expand, and if a high-speed rail line existed, there would be the potential that Rochester International Airport could handle some flights. Brede envisions a system where passengers could be screened at the Twin Cities airport, travel on a secured car and make it to Rochester within 30 to 45 minutes for a flight.

"It just make good sense economically all the way around," Brede said.

The mayor said DFL Gov. Mark Dayton indicated he wants to make sure the project has bipartisan support before moving ahead on it.

"Unless he has got full support partisan-wise, he's reluctant to stick his neck out too far," Brede said.

A MnDOT spokesman did not respond to a request on Tuesday seeking an update on the rail considerations. Rail group spokeswoman Wendy Meadley said on Tuesday the company still does not have a meeting with the governor scheduled.

"We're still in active communication with MnDOT and the governor's office to move this detailed process along," she said.

Meadley added that the company is still in negotiations to build the Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail line.

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During a Post-Bulletin editorial board meeting last month, Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he doesn't think high-speed rail is viable in the U.S., but he's not opposed to letting a private company build it.

"I'm a libertarian on what government should be involved in, and I don't believe the government should be telling a private business what they can or can't do," Daudt said. "So if they want to build this rail line without a public investment and there are private investors that can make this thing work, knock yourself out."

Related Topics: KURT DAUDT
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