The Olmsted County Regional Rail Authority is expected to vote tomorrow on a resolution in support of a $15 million bonding request for a proposed high-speed rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities.
The funding would go towards pre-design, design and environmental studies for the Zip Rail project. Last week, members of the authority met with the Post-Bulletin Editorial Board to discuss the bonding request. The total cost for the studies would be $75 million. The hope is the state money would help draw down federal dollars to complete the work.
While the rail authority members are enthusiastic about the project, they acknowledge they have yet to find a local lawmaker willing to sponsor the bonding request. Several Republican members of the delegation have voiced skepticism about the rail project, which is estimated to cost upwards of $1.5 billion to build. Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, who chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee, said he has lots of questions about the project. Those include who would own the rail line and what sorts of operating costs would be incurred. Rep. Mike Benson, R-Rochester, and Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, have also raised questions about the proposal.
So why move ahead with this funding request now? Officials say DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is very supportive of the Zip Rail project and tye are optimistic the request will be included in his bonding proposal. They added that the county cannot afford to just sit around and wait for a better political and economic climate. Olmsted County Commissioner Ken Brown compares the plans for high-speed rail to the investments made in the 1950s to build the interstate system.
"I understand the perceived skepticism but from a personal point of view, I believe this is the future," he said.