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As others see it: Lost flights and rail. What's next?

Common-sense Central Minnesotans can't help but agree with the Northstar Corridor Development Authority's recent decision to put on hold efforts to expand the commuter rail line from Big Lake to St. Cloud.

The numbers -- train ridership, the St. Cloud bus link, gas prices, unemployment rates, etc. -- simply don't add up to winning an intense national competition for funding through the Federal Transit Administration's Small Starts program. ...

That said, this decision by no means should be viewed as the end of expansion efforts. If anything, it should be seen as motivation to keep pushing Northstar use while ramping up other ways to bolster this transportation corridor.

Why? Don't look now, but the St. Cloud metro area has no air service, no hope of rail service in the immediate future, and there continue to be no plans to add or expand roads between here and the Twin Cities in the next 20 or more years. ...

Yes, it is expensive to add lanes to U.S. 10 and Interstate 94. But it is becoming more of a reality as residential growth occurs along this corridor. Remember, within 15 years there likely will be 850,000 people living in this area.

Yet the state has no plans in that time to add to these highways. Local elected officials must work to change that!

As for Northstar, the NCDA's next step is expected to be developing a strategy that in time makes it more competitive for federal aid. Increased ridership will help, so keep that bus line running. Backers also likely will focus more on land use and economic development spurred by the rail line. Such factors weigh heavily in the federal formulas used to award funding.

Still, that strategy will take several years or more to push Northstar to competitive levels. In the meantime, do your best to sit back and enjoy the drive.

St. Cloud Times

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