Saturday, November 03, 2007

Should other states emulate the Minnesota model of Regional Rail Authorities for each county?

Minnesota allows each county to establish by resolution a Regional Rail Authority. These Regional Rail Authorities can (thanks to the helpful Washington County website here):

  • Ability to acquire real and personal property within or outside its taxing jurisdiction
  • Ability to hold, manage, control, sell, convey, lease, mortgage, or otherwise dispose of property
  • Ability to apply for state and federal funds
  • Ability to tax
  • Ability to exercise Eminent Domain
  • Ability to collect a fee for use of its property

It was the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, not the Ramsey County Board, that just agreed to purchase the old Union Station in downtown St. Paul. I'd imagine that having a separate authority is good for bond ratings and also good to ensure rail investments don't get caught up in the budget battles of the county. It also gives a lot more political players an opportunity to invest in rail than just the state DOT or Congress.

For high-growth counties, this position from Washington County (which will double in population in 30 years, they say) is interesting (again, from their website):

The WCRRA recognizes the need for additional transportation investments and that transit will play an increasingly important role in maintaining the high quality of life enjoyed by county residents. To provide for the implementation of future transit at the least possible cost to county residents, the WCRRA takes a proactive approach to acquiring property.

Property purchases are limited to those parcels which will be necessary for a transit system's implementation. In many cases, this acquisition occurs many years before a system is constructed through purchases of abandoned or ready to be abandoned rail corridors.

By acquiring complete corridors, the WCRRA is able to preserve existing transportation corridors instead of trying to create new corridors in the future. By preserving instead of creating, the WCRRA is able to use its funds in a very cost effective manner. Property acquisitions, future transit implementation, and working with other governmental institutions allows the WCRRA to fulfill its mission of maintaining Washington County residents' high quality of life.

I'm intrigued. Anyone know more?

Progress in St. Paul: moving the train station downtown

The Ramsey County Board approved a purchase of land in downtown St. Paul for moving the Amtrak station there over the next few years

From comments in Pat Lynch's Trains for American blog:

The current station is in the ‘Midway’ district, a largely industrial area straddling Minneapolis and St. Paul, sandwiched between the BNSF and CP mainlines through the Twin Cities. There are no easy connections to mass transit, and certainly nothing worth note within walking distance.

Moving to the St. Paul Union Depot would simply move the station further east on the current line, but that would be right in the heart of Downtown St. Paul, also with a future mass transit connection to the Central Corridor light rail line, with service to downtown Minneapolis.

Thanks to Pat for finding the Star Tribune story.

Interestingly, the Ramsey County Board also has the power to sit as the Regional Rail Authority, which presumably has its own bonding authority. It also appears that federal money will finance the purchase of the historic building from the Postal Service to be converted to a multimodal station by 2012.

Great move Ramsey County!

Now, let's finance a second Empire Builder between Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul since this long-distance train consistently sells out and has the highest ridership of any long-distance train.