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County joins High-Speed Rail Corridor

Washington County is the latest to join with other Minnesota counties in the push for a high-speed rail train that would connect Chicago to the Twin Cities.

County commissioners voted 5-0 May 5 to approve a joint powers agreement that enters the county into a partnership with six other counties along a possible high-speed rail corridor that is being advocated for by several government bodies in the Midwest.

Washington County will join the High-Speed Rail Corridor in partnership with the regional railroad authorities of: Ramsey, Dakota, Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona, Houston, and Olmstead counties.

The group of counties will advocate for a high-speed rail service between the Twin Cities and Chicago.

The corridor includes the rail route from Union Depot in St. Paul south along the Mississippi River to La Crescent. The corridor shares the Red Rock Corridor from St. Paul to Hastings.

Washington County officials say the Minnesota High Speed Rail Corridor would connect Minnesota to Chicago and the greater Midwest Regional Rail System, which spans across 3,000 miles and nine Midwest states.

County officials say such a high-speed rail system is several years away from becoming a reality, but the county's entrance into the joint powers board throws one more county into the push for federal dollars to lay the groundwork, said commissioner and county board chair Myra Peterson.

"(Joining the high-speed rail corridor) just gives us more impetus, more credibility as we apply for more federal dollars," Peterson said.

The timing of Washington County's official entrance into the high-speed rail issue comes a few weeks after several elected officials met late last month at the Union Depot in St. Paul for a conference on the push for a high-speed rail line between Chicago and the Twin Cities.

Proponents of the high-speed rail line say it would create as many as 2,000 permanent jobs in Minnesota, as well as calm the high volume of freight being shipped by truck on I-94 and the high-volume of flights between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

"I look at it as a freight issue and a passenger issue," said Washington County Commissioner Dennis Hegberg.

The possibility of a high-speed rail line also means the county will have to continue to get behind the push for state and federal dollars for the development of the Red Rock Corridor in the Cottage Grove-Newport-St. Paul Park area for future commuter rail lines, Hegberg said.

"For our Red Rock Corridor we need to make those improvements that are necessary to provide for that commuter rail transportation when that comes about, and it probably won't be for many years," Hegberg said. "We have to start figuring out how and when we are going to do that.

As part of the joint powers agreement, the county board also appointed commissioner Myra Peterson as the Minnesota High Speed Rail Commission representative for Washington County and Commissioner Gary Kriesel as the alternate for 2009.