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Lawmaker questions Rochester rail bypass

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February 14, 2001 A Plainview lawmaker is backing away from supporting Rochester, Minnesota's proposed railroad bypass, The Post-Bulletin reports. DFL House Assistant Majority Leader Andy Welti recently sent a letter to constituents who live along the potential rail route saying that it is time to start negotiating with the railroad.

"Rather than
requesting a large public investment in a ‘Southern Rail Corridor,’ I believe
it is in the best interests of the taxpayers and the community to negotiate
with Canadian Pacific and develop plans for a through-city mitigation project
for the existing freight rail corridor," Welti wrote.

In an interview, Welti
said he approached supporters of the Southern Rail Corridor and offered to lead
a negotiation team to meet with Canadian Pacific Railway about mitigation. He
said a bypass could cost the state as much as $90 million, and it makes sense
to consider other options.

"At this point we
need to show everyone involved in this that we are going to do a thorough
analysis and that our decision is going to be based on data," he said.

The proposed rail bypass
is proving to be a political hot potato for local lawmakers. Mayo Clinic,
Olmsted County, the city government and the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce
back the bypass, a 48.3-mile route plotted south of Rochester in an arc from
Dodge Center to east of Eyota.

Supporters argue that
increased freight traffic on the existing line through Rochester poses a safety
hazard, would lead to traffic congestion and result in a freight train
bottleneck. But the bypass plan has drawn sharp criticism from those concerned
about its cost and the potential to divide farmland. Helping to ramp up the
debate is a request to the state by the Olmsted County Regional Rail Authority
for $8 million to complete study and engineering work on the Southern Rail
Corridor.

Republican Gov. Tim
Pawlenty recently announced that his capital investment proposal includes $2
million for the study work. The county would be required to match those
dollars.

Dr. Glenn Forbes, Mayo
Clinic medical director for state government, reiterated the clinic’s support
for the bypass. He said the clinic has maintained communications with Canadian
Pacific Railway.

"We really are very
supportive of increasing the capacity for carrying freight through southern
Minnesota and in doing that in a way that does not produce a bottleneck here in
Rochester nor does it create a hazard for the very sensitive downtown
area," he said.

Canadian Pacific Railway
spokesman Mike LoVecchio declined to comment on Welti’s statements. The
railroad views it to be a "local issue first and foremost," he said.

LoVecchio added," We view
the existing line as meeting our needs and there are existing customers that
remain on that line."

Kathy King, co-chair of
the Citizens Against Rochester’s Bypass, said the group sees Welti’s
announcement as a step in the right direction. She said the group hopes to meet
with Welti to discuss his idea.

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