Cravaack: High-speed rail from Duluth ‘does not make sense’

U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack comes out strongly against plans for a high-speed rail line between Duluth and the Twin Cities in an op-ed piece in today’s Star Tribune.

His bottom line: It’s not worth the cost, considering the federal government’s financial problems and all the other infrastructure problems with crumbling roads and aging bridges.

He wants a first-things-first approach:

Backers of a high-speed rail line between Duluth and the Twin Cities claim the project would cost about $750 million, and they say the federal government could pick up 80 percent of the cost.

Considering the federal government is already borrowing 40 cents of every dollar it is currently spending, the idea of adding more to our debt load doesn’t make sense.

We just averted a debt crisis, and the solution we reached doesn’t reduce our massive deficit — it merely slows its growth. We still have a long way to go.

The wisest course of action for us is to not spend money on a venture that can’t pay for itself. Instead, we must first attend to the crumbling roads, the bridges in urgent need of repair and the incomplete highway projects that we have throughout the state.

And he concludes:

Instead of pursuing a new rail line, let’s first spend our time, efforts and limited resources fixing what we have. Let’s complete the pending projects that have been identified as high priorities.

The idea of a high-speed commuter-rail line between Duluth and the Twin Cities may make economic sense in the future, but it does not make sense at this time.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 10/19/2011 - 02:12 pm.

    Good points, all, especially given Duluth’s 86,000 population and its 267,000 MSA population. It’s time to stop trying to sell projects on the basis that it’s the Fed’s dollars to our dimes.

  2. Submitted by T J Simplot on 10/19/2011 - 03:12 pm.

    From what I’ve read previously, the high speed rail would travel around 80 mph which would not save that much time.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/19/2011 - 03:44 pm.

    Didn’t Amtrak shut down a MPLS to Duluth route just a couple of years ago?

  4. Submitted by Benjamin Riggs on 10/19/2011 - 06:31 pm.

    “The wisest course of action for us is to not spend money on a venture that can’t pay for itself. Instead, we must first attend to the crumbling roads, the bridges in urgent need of repair and the incomplete highway projects that we have throughout the state.”

    Gotta love contradictory statements. Roads in no way, shape or form pay for themselves through taxes on motor vehicles. They are heavily subsidized by general funds and property taxes. Until automobile infrastructure pays for itself through user fees, the argument that transit can’t pay for itself is moot.

  5. Submitted by Mike Hicks on 10/20/2011 - 10:30 pm.

    The old train to Duluth was only running on weekends (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) and was taking about 3.5 hours to run from St. Paul to Duluth when it ended service. It was shut down in the mid-’80s, more than 25 years ago now.

    The new train is expected to make 8 round trips each day and to run more than 70 minutes faster. 2 hours 15 minutes or so from Minneapolis to Duluth. Less than 2 hours if you get on the train up in Coon Rapids.

    Cravaack incorrectly called it commuter rail and compared it with the Northstar Line. While some commuters could use it, it’s planned to run all day on a much more stretched-out schedule (as compared with Northstar, where all the trips are compressed into rush hours). This means that even though the distance between Minneapolis and Duluth is 4x that of Minneapolis to Big Lake, the Northern Lights Express will use roughly the same amount of hardware. The big waste with the current Northstar is the fact that the multi-million-dollar trains are sitting idle underneath Target Field during mid-day when they should be out pulling in revenue.

    I can appreciate Cravaack’s argument that bridges and other ailing infrastructure should be a higher priority. But is he actually advocating to repair things? It sure doesn’t sound like it. He attacked the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act because the jobs that it created were too expensive, and ragged on bike and pedestrian infrastructure that was supposedly stealing away gas tax money. Oh, come on! There are bigger fish to fry in that respect. The Highway Trust Fund is expected to have a $7 billion funding gap this year alone. Bike and ped projects could maybe account for 5% of that — and that’s only if you believe that sidewalks and bike lanes are things that should be completely separate from roads in the first place.

    Funding sources get so chopped up that it’s hard to really make an argument that one project is actually taking money away from anything else. The main competitor for road and bridge projects are other roads and bridges. The Stillwater Bridge again becomes an important icon of true fiscal insanity — it’s estimated that it would take $500 million to repair all of the structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota, yet the Stillwater Bridge is going to cost $700 million. There you go — that’s something that competes directly for the same dollars.

    (Yes, the Northern Lights Express is also expected to cost about $700 million, but it’s a 155-mile train line as opposed to a 0.5-mile bridge.)

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