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Rail News: High-Speed Rail

Minnesota ends Twin Cities-to-Milwaukee high-speed rail study


By Julie Sneider, senior associate editor

An environmental study exploring the viability of a high-speed passenger-rail service between Minnesota and Wisconsin has been halted after two Minnesota state lawmakers objected to its funding.

Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) Passenger Rail Director Dan Krom yesterday confirmed in an email a news report that the state has stopped its high-speed rail study, which was examining an environmental process that would be used to move the project forward.

The proposed rail corridor would have featured high-speed passenger-rail service from Minnesota's Twin Cities to Milwaukee and then on to Chicago.

Last month, Minnesota Republican State Rep. Paul Torkelson and Republican State Sen. Scott Newman objected to MnDOT's accepting of federal grant money to complete the study largely because of Wisconsin state officials' opposition to high-speed rail, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported earlier this week.

"Minnesota should not be squandering precious tax dollars — whether local, state or federal — on a wasteful project actively opposed by other states whose support is necessary to proceed," the legislators wrote in a letter to the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget, the newspaper reported.

Torkelson and Newman chair the transportation committees in the Minnesota House and Senate, respectively.

About $1 million in state and federal funding has been invested to date toward the study over the past several years, said Krom. Wisconsin pulled out of the study years ago, due to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's objection to high-speed rail projects. But Minnesota continued to study the prospect of a high-speed passenger-rail corridor.

The Tier 1 environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed rail line was funded under a federal High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail program stimulus grant issued during President Obama's administration. The grant called for $600,000 from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) with a $600,000 match — $300,000 from each state.

After Wisconsin pulled out of the study, Minnesota committed the full $600,000 state share to match the FRA's portion. About $181,000 in federal grant funds remain, which Krom said he assumed would remain in the grant program until it is closed in the future.

In 2010, while campaigning for his first term as governor, Walker said if elected he would send back $810 million in federal stimulus funds the state received for a proposed high-speed rail connection between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. After Walker won the election, the U.S. Department of Transportation took back the federal stimulus money and distributed it to other states.