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Commentary: Zip Rail plans speeding down the line

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Too many people in Goodhue County are not aware of the details of the proposed Zip Rail.

They think it doesn’t impact them since they don’t live right along Highway 52, think it will benefit them by stopping near them, or think it’ll never happen. These popular misconceptions are not true, and people need to be aware of the facts, not the rumors.

Misconception 1 — The rail line will run down the center of Highway 52. Not true.

The Zip Rail planners are looking at either Highway 56 or 52 (Page 17 at http://mn-goodhuecounty.civicplus.com/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Item/782?fil...). The Highway 56 option goes from downtown Rochester to Dodge Center then up through West Concord, Kenyon, Nerstrand, Dennison, Randolph, Hampton and Vermillion to Coates.

Sound familiar? It should, it’s the path of the old Hayfield to Rosemount rail line, which is important to note because the plan is to retake control of any existing rail right of ways and place the Zip Rail in those locations.

The Highway 52 “greenfield” option circles out of downtown Rochester to Oronoco, then follows Highway 52 cutting along the east side of Pine Island. Once north of Pine Island it crosses to the west side of Highway 52 and — moving along a path one to two miles west of the highway, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Praveen Pidaparthi — through Zumbrota, Hader, Cannon Falls, Hampton and Vermillion, to Coates.

The Highway 52 route requires all new right-of-way acquisitions through existing fields and homes.

Surely they have thought about this, and they have. According to the 2010 Comprehensive Statewide Freight & Passenger Rail Plan, “It has been suggested greenfields in rural areas could be acquired inexpensively. It is likely that all landowners will fight hard for maximum compensation, even to the point of court actions. It is likely that any rail alignments will split individually owned land parcels.”

I don’t know how you read that but I read “offer people living in rural areas virtually nothing for their land and homes and keep the lawyers on retainer.”

Misconception 2 — It’s not my problem — I don’t live near the proposed line. Not true.

Zip Rail planners want a 200-to-400-foot wide, sealed access, no at-grade crossings for their non-stop 180 mph 300-passenger train according to the 28 May 2014 Post Bulletin article “Zip Rail gets chilly reception in Dodge County” (www.postbulletin.com; http://www.co.dodge.mn.us/County_Board/2014_Board_Minutes/05_27_14.pdf). In layman’s terms, to me, that means unless Zip Rail folks plan to cut off the affected citizens’ access to homes and neighbors, every road the line intersects must have either an over or underpass. Every road.

And what about the fields it would cut in half? How would farmers gain access to the other half of their field? Would there be over passes created in the fields? Who will pay for these? Who would pay the extra costs incurred by the county and townships to maintain these multiple over/under passes?

Certainly this financial burden should not be placed upon the citizens of Goodhue County, who neither asked for nor receive any benefit from this rail line.

Misconception 3 – It will stop in the towns it runs through; they can use it for commuting and to build their economic base. Not true.

The Zip Rail plan is a non-stop rail line from Rochester to the Twin Cities. Every single document produced, every briefing provided states this fact. This is a non-stop high speed rail line connecting Rochester to the Twin Cities.

Yes, Zip Rail advocates give lip service to the possibility that sometime in the distant future to maybe create a whole other commuter rail service to stop in some of the towns it runs through.

Anybody who thinks the Zip Rail folks will work for that after they get their rail line is fooling themselves. Throwing out this “possibility” is nothing more than a “come into my web said the spider to the fly” ploy. Zip Rail would stop in any town in Goodhue County.

Misconception 4 – It’ll never happen. Time will tell.

While “no build” is still an option, Olmsted County does not discuss that possibility and is doing everything in its power to make it happen.

Zip Rail proponents are nothing if not patient and persistent. They have consistently worked on this since 2009/2010. They have already received $2 million of taxpayer money from a MnDOT 2009 Bonding Bill for studies and plans. Olmsted County, which has already provided $400,000 and is actively seeking further funding, is not going to just walk away from this plan. (http://www.co.olmsted.mn.us/planning/rocog/Documents/2014Agendas/2014062...).

Haven’t heard anything about Zip Rail? Not surprised. Are we really surprised Olmsted County continues to push forward with its plan to create the Zip Rail line without any sincere or earnest attempts to include the citizens of Goodhue County?

The counter question is: Do we wait for the too late invitation to sell our land and homes or do we stand up for ourselves and inject ourselves into the process now? I choose the latter.

I intend to read the Scoping Booklet and Draft Scoping Decision Document released July 7 (www.goZipRail.org) and submit my comments before Aug. 6, when the public comment period closes.

I intend to go to the only “Scoping Open House” meeting in Goodhue County 5 to 7 p.m. July 31 at the Kenyon High School commons area and auditorium and have my voice heard.

If you don’t think this is important, consider this: When the Zip Rail planners briefed the Rochester-Olmsted Council of Governments back on Jan. 17 in regards to the release of the 2014 environmental impact study scoping document, they stated in the slide pack the goal of EIS Scoping document is to identify “End to End” alternatives and “a preferred alternative” to move into the next phase.

When asked if, “at the end of current study work they would be at a point where a route alignment would be firm enough to potentially consider officially mapping the corridor in order to preserve the alignment from encroachment by future development,” Zip Rail project manager Mr. Chuck Michaels answered, “There should be enough confidence in an alignment at that point that officially mapping the corridor could be considered.” (http://www.co.olmsted.mn.us/planning/rocog/Documents/2014Minutes/2014011... )

The time to get involved is now, before it’s too late.

If you won’t stand up for yourself, who will?

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