Officials from the southeastern Twin Cities and beyond say their communities should be next in line for a passenger rail line, and a $500,000 park-and-ride lot is the first step.
"This is about investing in jobs," Rep. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said, hitching Red Rock to the legislative session’s main theme.
Officials gathered for a Monday Capitol complex news conference could produce no estimates of how many jobs Red Rock could establish, but St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said they would fall into two categories: those created to build a passenger rail line and related infrastructure and those that appear because businesses likely would move to the area.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, called the Red Rock project a three-prong effort, providing improved freight transportation, adding passenger rail that would move people from Minneapolis and St. Paul to southeast of the area and high-speed rail that would provide a new service between the Twin Cities and Chicago.
The Red Rock Corridor Commission, backed by local elected officials, asked lawmakers to approve funding to begin the project.
The commission’s first step is a $500,000 park-and-ride lot in Hastings, initially to be used by commuters who catch buses into the center Twin Cities. The bus line is being sought in part because Mississippi River bridges in Hastings and St. Paul are to be replaced in the coming years and construction may slow traffic.
Once the bus line is well established, the officials said, a passenger rail line on existing tracks from east St. Paul through Newport and Cottage Grove would connect Hastings with a planned rail line between Minneapolis and St. Paul. The goal is for that line to be running by 2015.
Some from the Red Wing area want the line to extend to their community.
A separate rail project, funded in a large part by federal money, would provide high-speed passenger rail service to Chicago.
Also this year, southeastern Twin Cities officials want $3.6 million to establish the bus line from St. Paul to Hastings. Also being sought is $13.5 million to upgrade a rail yard east of St. Paul and $8.5 million to continue the St. Paul Union Depot renovation.
House and Senate proposals include varying amounts for Red Rock-related projects, but Gov. Tim Pawlenty has proposed much less.
"I think the administration is open to the idea that we are not going to ride in our cars forever," said Rep. Denny McNamara of Hastings, the only Republican lawmaker at the Monday Red Rock news conference.
However, McNamara added, he has no assurances Republican Pawlenty will support any of Red Rock’s proposals