Cities support study of potential Little Crow Transit Way
By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, HENNEPIN COUNTIES, MN A passenger rail system could be a “common sense” solution to heavy traffic on Highway 12, and cities along the proposed Little Crow Transit Way route have voiced their approval for further study of the idea.
“If you don’t look at possibilities, there’s no chance of anything happening,” said District 18B Rep. Dean Urdahl.
The commuter rail would utilize the current Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, transporting passengers from Willmar to Minneapolis, with stops along the way.
“We would love for Montrose to be a stop,” Montrose City Administrator Barbara Swanson said. “It would mean a lot more people in our city.”
Urdahl said he began looking into an alternative transportation system when he “came to the realization that there was no transportation plan through central Minnesota.”
“Essentially, the plan was to keep trying to upgrade Highway 12,” he said, adding that traffic on Highway 12 has increased significantly in recent years.
According to data from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), an average of 13,500 vehicles went through Delano on Highway 12 each day in 2000. The most recent data, from 2008, shows an average of 18,500 vehicles per day in the same location.
In Montrose, the vehicle count went from 8,800 to 13,400 during those years. Waverly also noticed an increase, from 7,300 in 2000 to 10,100 in 2008.
“Wright County is the 52nd fastest growing county in the United States,” Urdahl said. “There’s a need to do something to relieve the pressure on Highway 12.”
Whether that “something” should be Little Crow Transit Way or not remains to be seen, he said, emphasizing that he simply wants to look at possibilities and discover the best option.
“We have not spent any money on this, and I’m not going to support anything that doesn’t make economic sense,” he said.
MnDOT is currently doing a statewide rail plan study, which includes analysis of the Little Crow Transit Way plan. The study will be completed by the end of 2009, and from there, MnDOT can determine the cost, convenience, and environmental impact.
Local cities have approved a resolution in support of the study, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily in favor of Little Crow Transit Way.
“They are not endorsing the rail plan, as such,” Urdahl explained. “They are expressing interest.”
So far, Urdahl said people seem to be excited about the possibility.
“I’m getting calls from people with positive comments,” he said. “Public support could go a long way in how they average the potential success of this.”
“I personally voted for it because I believe it’s never too soon to start looking ahead at our transportation needs,” said Waverly City Council member Connie Holmes. “I think, in the future, we’re going to have some tough decisions ahead of us. We’ll be far better off having good information at hand, which is what this study will do.”
Urdahl said he’s only interested in the project if the public is interested, as well.
Cost could be one downside to the project, he said, but the amount of money it would take won’t be determined until after the study.
The Northstar Commuter Rail, which is scheduled to begin service from Big Lake to downtown Minneapolis Monday, Nov. 16, will be an indicator of the project’s potential success, as well.
“They are using existing rail, too,” Urdahl said. “It’s going to show the possibilities for us.”
Right now, the Little Crow Transit Way project study is in its infancy.
“MnDOT has indicated that projects that warrant rail service and meet funding criteria typically take 8 to 10 years to develop,” Kern noted.
The City of Montrose is already starting to spread enthusiasm for the project, and has put together a Little Crow Transit Way task force. The task force drafted a letter of support that residents can sign.
“We’re going to try to get as many of these letters signed as possible,” Swanson said. “Every person we get on board, the more likely this is to happen.”
Copies of the letter are available at Montrose City Hall and on the city web site, www.montrose-mn.com.
Swanson said she makes frequent trips to the Twin Cities, and would love to see the project go through.
“I personally would use it,” she said. “It’d be great to hop on a commuter train. You could read a book or take a nap on the way.”
In the future, the passenger rail could also be a big plus for people commuting to the Twin Cities.
“Upwards of 40 percent of people in Wright County work in Hennepin County,” Urdahl said.
“Rail service into downtown from Delano would provide another option for residents wanting to live in Delano and commute to the Metro area,” Kern stated. “For the whole Highway 12 corridor, it could provide additional economic development opportunities that could add investment into all of the communities on the corridor.”
For more information about the Little Crow Transit Way plan, contact Urdahl at (651) 296-4344 or 800-920-5861. He can also be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.