MN: Some Zip Rail HSR Details Emerge

May 21--RED WING -- Representatives from the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Olmsted County Regional Railroad Authority presented a Zip Rail update Tuesday morning to the Goodhue County Board.

It's one of the first meetings with local government entities to keep them abreast of the ambitious high-speed rail project seeking to connect Rochester with the Twin Cities. Rochester, for example, is scheduled to hear similar details at a June 3 meeting.

Early planning for the endeavor began way back in 1991, according to project manager Chuck Michael. That vision received a major jolt of momentum in 2010 when Gov. Tim Pawlenty deemed it a priority project in his state rail plan.

After four years of earnest planning and evaluation, officials have narrowed the potential route options from about 1,200 to just a handful, Michael said. The favored northern-most hub options include the Minneapolis International Airport, the Union Depot in St. Paul or Target Field. The favored southern-most hubs are downtown Rochester and the Rochester International Airport.

The route would travel south through Hampton before either paralleling U.S. 52 on the west side or the old rail bed that generally follows Minnesota Highway 56 about 20 miles to the west.

The high-speed rail, which would connect with the metro light rail, would travel at 79 mph between the Twins Cities and Hampton. The speed would increase to 180 mph between Hampton and Rochester.

Praveena Pidaparthi, MnDOT's Passenger Rail Planning Director, indicated that Target Field and the Rochester International Airport appear to be the next options to be eliminated, but she'll be seeking comments before moving into the Tier 1 portion of planning that calls for an extensive environmental impact statement.

"Our goal is to meet with you all ... to make sure there are no red flags," Pidaparthi said.

The planning and evaluation process is expected to be wrapped up in 2019, at which point officials will begin the search for funding, Michael said. The project does not currently have an estimated price tag due to all the variables involved. Michael called the acquiring right of way the "biggest challenge."

"When people named it long-range planning, they weren't kidding," Michael quipped afterward.

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