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High speed rail could be coming

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While construction is years, even decades, down the road the prospect of getting high-speed rail going in Minnesota is a hot topic.

In particular, a possible line from the Twin Cities to Rochester is picking up steam. In January, a group of interested parties rolled out a plan to build a high-speed passenger rail line, called Zip Rail, along the Highway 52 corridor.

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If the plan comes to fruition, it will have the train, which will travel between 150 and 220 MPH coming through eastern Rosemount. There have also been discussions of having a stop within the city's borders before it heads to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport.

Rosemount city planner Jason Lindahl said while the city council hasn't developed an official position on the potential project, it will continue to watch the progress with interest.

"Staff will be monitoring the project and letting the council know what's going on," said Lindahl.

The Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce also hasn't established a formal position on the project but the chamber has been educating their members on it, said DCRC president Ruthe Batulis.

"I think it's compelling and at least for me it's forced me to think about the region in a different way.... (The project has) given me a different perspective on connecting the dots between the Twin Cities and Rochester," said Batulis.

Batulis said many people commute between the two cities and that the project needs to be studied to find out if it's a viable option.

"I think it's definitely something we have to be cognizant of," Batulis added.

A coalition that includes officials from the Olmstead County, the city of Rochester, Rochester Chamber of Commerce and Mayo Clinic, launched the initiative for the Zip Rail project. Olmstead County Commissioner Ken Brown said the group felt the need to give the project life by giving it a name and seeking funds.

"We felt we needed to brand this to show we are serious about this and give it life," said Brown.

The line would serve as a connection between the two largest economic centers in Minnesota. Brown said the next step is to start gathering funds for the project through grants, which is no small task. A preliminary cost estimate for the project is $973 million.

The coalition will have to get state and federal legislatures on board as well as various counties and municipalities including Rosemount.

The Zip Rail route would run north from Rochester between Highways 52 and 56 into Dakota County with a likely stop in the southern metro, then on to MSP airport and possibly downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.

President Barak Obama has dedicated $8 billion of stimulus money to high-speed rail projects.

While it's a big task, Brown said as oil becomes scarcer and gas prices continue to rise he anticipates there will be more support for projects like Zip Rail.

"Rail is an efficient way to transport people and goods and I think it's going to be much more attractive to people as gas prices rise," said Brown.

Brown said the coalition is in the first stage of a long journey but is committed to the getting the line going. The Minnesota Department of Transportation has been studying various high-speed rail routes as well, including a route between the Twin Cities and Milwaukee and another between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

At least the Milwaukee project is dead in the water, however, as Wisconsin Governor of Scott Walker has refused to accept federal money for high-speed rail.

And in a time when the state of Minnesota is facing a $6 billion deficit the Chicago line has not gathered a lot of state legislature support either.

For more information on the Zip Rail visit www.goziprail.org.

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Emily Zimmer
Emily Zimmer has worked as a staff writer for the Rosemount Town Pages since 2007. She has a degree in journalism from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Outside of work, Emily enjoys running, reading and gardening. You can follow Emily's gardening adventures at the Areavoices blog East of Weedin'
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