County Board backs out of high-speed rail groupWashington County will withdraw from a collection of governmental agencies that advocate for high-speed rail after commissioners said the county should focus its efforts on securing funds for freight rail improvements instead.
By: Jon Avise, Woodbury Bulletin
Washington County will withdraw from a collection of governmental agencies that advocate for high-speed rail after commissioners said the county should focus its efforts on securing funds for freight rail improvements instead.
The Minnesota High-Speed Rail Commission has been working since 2009 to promote a plan for a high-speed rail connection between the Twin Cities and Chicago. It is an effort, however, that has been hamstrung by a lack of federal funding and lack of support from some major pieces of the puzzle, including Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration.
County commissioners, acting as the Washington County Regional Rail Authority, voted unanimously to pull out of the commission at a meeting last week.
“This was not done in haste,” said Commissioner Lisa Weik, who represents much of Woodbury and serves as chair of the rail authority. “We have had a thorough, analytical review.”
Washington County transportation planners and advocates had hoped to see the proposed line run along a so-called river route through south Washington County on its way to St. Paul’s Union Depot.
That, officials said, would benefit freight rail lines through the corridor that are in need of improvements and boost efforts to construct a commuter rail line from St. Paul to Hastings.
The push, though, has stalled, officials say. Improvements to freight rail lines through the county are more critical to an economically vibrant metro area, commissioners said.
“It’s on life support right now,” said Commissioner Gary Kriesel, “and I think it’s time to pull the plug.”
Washington County had allocated $15,000 annually as part of its membership in the high-speed rail commission, though the county said it was billed only $9,375 in 2012.
The commission is comprised of county regional rail authorities from Washington, Dakota, Ramsey, Goodhue, Winona and Wabasha counties in addition to 11 cities, including Cottage Grove, Hastings and St. Paul Park.
Officials were required to provide 90 days written notice to withdraw from the commission; the deadline to pull out of the consortium before 2013 dues were required to be paid was Oct. 3.