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Zip Rail planning process moves forward with two possible routes from Rochester

Zip Rail planning process moves forward with two possible routes from Rochester

(THE MED CITY BEAT) - The planning process for a high-speed rail from the Twin Cities to Rochester took another step forward this week with the release of the "final scoping decision document."

The document finalizes many of the details discussed at last summer's public forums, with only one notable change. It also allows planners to move onto the next phases of research.

Here'e an overview of what we know about the project to date:

1. Corridors

Planners decided to move forward with two corridor options from Rochester, one that runs parallel with U.S. Highway 52 and the other Minnesota Highway 56.

The only noticeable change is the U.S. 52 route is now closer to the highway between Coates and a point just north of Pine Island. The rail would use the highway's existing right-of-way and median where possible, according to the report. Tracks and roadways could also be elevated when necessary. 

The change was a direct result of public feedback. Planners received 302 comments during the scoping comment period last summer: 8 from agencies, 12 from local governments and 282 from the general public.

Graphic: Final Scoping Decision Document

Each corridor represents a space approximately one mile wide, or about a half mile on each side of the conceptual center line. The report says the width allows for "flexibility" as the design proceeds. An exact alignment, which will require a few hundred feet in width, won't be known until more studies are done.

2. Terminals

The Zip Rail would travel directly from downtown Rochester to Minneapolis - St. Paul International Airport and/or Union Depot in the Twin Cities.

"Preliminary ridership studies indicated that these locations showed the strongest demand for service," the report says.

Terminal stations at the Rochester International Airport and Target Field in Minneapolis have been removed from consideration. However, the report says a rail link between downtown Rochester and the airport could be considered later in the planning process.

The only intermediate station currently under consideration is located near U.S. 52 in Dakota County.

3. Speed

Trains in some sections of the corridor would travel at speeds of about 186 miles per hour, the report says, with a projected travel time of approximately 45-50 minutes between the Twin Cities and Rochester.

All corridor segments in which train speeds exceed 125 mph must be “sealed,” the report says, to maintain safety. That means the corridor would need to be secured and out of the way of any existing traffic intersections.

4. Cost

The Zip Rail is estimated to cost somewhere in the ballpark of $2 to $4 billion.

State lawmakers are waiting to see future studies before deciding whether to commit any public financing to the project.

However, many Republicans have already dismissed the project, arguing the state needs to focus on improving the existing transportation infrastructure of roads and bridges.

The first set of studies, at a cost of about $2.3 million, has already been paid for the state and Olmsted County Regional Rail Authority. 

5. Future

Planners are now required to complete the first draft of an Environmental Impact Statement for both potential corridors. Once the document is completed, the report says, there will be another public comment period.

If the planning process continues past that point, it would still be years before the start of any construction on the project.

The entire document is available on the project's website and at local government offices and libraries throughout the area.

(Cover photo: Final Scoping Decision Document)

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