This afternoon, I was fortunate to meet with several regional participants in a discussion regarding the Dan Patch Railroad corridor with the main question “where do we go from here?” Representative David Bly and Representative Alice Hausmann led the discussion, held at St. Olaf College. Over the last 3 years I have passed bills out of the Minnesota Senate which in effect would have removed the gag order placed in statute several years ago not allowing any appropriation of money to a Dan Patch study or planning. Opposition in the House killed the bill.
There are several challenges, but a well planned local approach from the ground up would offer the best chance to achieving alternative transit options to the Twin Cities. Two big challenges involve governance and funding. With the Met Council representing the 7 county metro area and MnDOT taking on much of the transportation planning for outstate Minnesota, the challenge lies in how to find common ground that ultimately leads to a workable statewide rail plan. The current statewide rail plan relies on existing rail and infrastructure, important given the difficulty in gaining additional right of way. That’s why the Dan Patch should be a part of the picture.
There are at least 17 separate funding sources in the Cedar Transit corridor. What funding sources would be available for the Dan Patch, should the statute be changed. Should we consider other routes? What is feasible? How does rail tie in with existing transportation hubs? Can existing bus service be expanded? What is the best mode of transportation for a given corridor? Can we get buy-in from cities and counties along the way? Groups like SCALE (Scott County Assoc. for Leadership and Efficiency) has already included the Dan Patch Line as part of their legislative priorities.
There will be other meetings planned, perhaps as early as August, to discuss the Dan Patch corridor and regional transportation options. We are encouraged by the renewed interest.