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Mon, Apr 20th, 2009
Posted in Government

(Rochester, MN) - Today, Congressman Walz and Obama Administration Official Mark Yachmetz, Associate Administrator of Railroad Development at the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) held a roundtable discussion at the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce on high speed rail. Other participants in the discussion included: representatives of the Pawlenty Administration, local elected officials, business owners and union representatives.

This was the Obama Administration's first such meeting in the Midwest since the President announced his national strategy for high speed rail on Thursday. Mr. Yachmetz provided a briefing on the multi-step application process that will be used by the FRA to evaluate which projects to fund. Governor Pawlenty and Congressman Walz jointly announced earlier this month that all possible options, including routes through southern Minnesota, would be part of the Statewide Rail Plan study.

"The President and the Congress have committed an unprecedented amount of money to reinventing how Americans move around the country," said Walz, a member of the House Transportation committee. "This high speed rail system, much like the interstate highway system will be designed based around good data and smart economics. This is about creating jobs and fostering a good business environment in southern Minnesota, and I am thrilled that both the Winona and Rochester Chambers are here today, as well as labor members who represent working families."

"We are at the point of a profound change in focus that was in part generated by the Recovery Act, but also by the leadership in Washington," said Yachmetz at the beginning of his remarks. "The President, the Vice President, the Secretary of Transportation and other top leadership all come from places where passenger rail is important."

Yachmetz continued, "It is not about the 8 billion dollars. If we spend eight billion dollars and that is all we get [for high speed rail], we are not successful. The idea is to link what we're doing to the interstate highway program and develop a sustainable, long term program going forward." Yachmetz repeatedly talked about the need for a comprehensive state rail plan and emphasized that federal decision-makers will heavily weigh rail recommendations that are part of comprehensive statewide rail systems.

According to Walz, once all possible options are considered and the Statewide Rail Plan determines the best route, securing funding for the project will require a bipartisan coalition at state and federal levels. A bi-partisan group of governors from the Midwest have signaled their initial support that puts Minnesota in line to receive federal economic recovery money for planning, engineering and environmental planning Minnesota's portion of the high speed rail route.

Walz concluded, "As we've heard today, President Obama's strategy for high speed rail is bold and visionary and will help speed our economic recovery as we put hundreds of people back to work. Today's meeting brought together our regional stakeholders in order to brief them on the President's strategic plan and brainstorm how we position southern Minnesota to be central in the early phases of high speed rail expansion in this country."

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