Anoka County Withdraws Support for Passenger Rail Project
Friday, June 15, 2012 03:47 PM
ANOKA, Minn. -- A surprising move this week by the Anoka County Regional Rail Authority.
On a four to three vote, the board approved pulling out of an alliance that supports the Northern Lights Express passenger rail service. The decision effectively pulls the plug on Anoka County's involvement with the project.
The Northern Lights Express is a passenger rail line that's envisioned to run between Minneapolis and Duluth with a stop here in Coon Rapids near the Foley Boulevard Park and Ride. But the rail line's future is no longer being supported by Anoka County thanks to a formal vote this week by the rail board.
"Some of it's pretty scary in terms of the costs and the subsidies this line requires."
Regional rail chair Matt Look says Anoka County taxpayers can't be on the hook for a train project he says simply isn't a good investment.
Look says, "This is certainly not a top priority project in my estimation, this is a wanted project, it falls heavily in the want category but it's not in a need category and we have specific needs already identified. Iif we had the type of money that would be required on this project, it would probably be best spent elsewhere."
But just how much everything will cost is still up for discussion. Some estimates are as high as one billion dollars with an operating cost of 46 million per year. Other estimates are less.
Anoka County Commissioner Dan Erhart says, "I was very disappointed, I thought it was the worst vote that this county board has taken over the years that I've been on the county board here."
Erhart, a longtime rail supporter, says Anoka County needs to think about the future. He says a lack of long term planning can have devastating effects on public transit and economic development.
Erhart says, "I think it's up to us if we want to provide a system of government services including public transportation and what that effect will be on people that want to locate their businesses and hopefully they'll locate them here. They tell me clearly it's important to have a good public transportation system."
And Erhart sees rail as a part of that. But for four board members, it's not a plan they can support.
Look says, "I think we have saved the taxpayer a significant amount of money."
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