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Pork project is state's 'Train to Nowhere'

After many national new stories and countless late-night talk-show jokes, most people are familiar with the infamous Congressional boondoggle, the "Bridge to Nowhere."...

After many national new stories and countless late-night talk-show jokes, most people are familiar with the infamous Congressional boondoggle, the "Bridge to Nowhere."

Now, right here in Minnesota, we have our very own pork-barrel spending project that rivals the Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere." It is the "Train to Nowhere."

The "Bridge to Nowhere" was the name given to the $398 million Gravina Island Bridge, which was proposed to replace ferry service between Kethikan, Alaska, and nearby Gravina Island, population 50, where the Ketchikan airport is located.

In 2006, the bridge project became the subject of national attention when it became emblematic of Congressional pork-barrel spending.

The "Train to Nowhere" is a proposal to run a passenger train along a 150-mile route from Minneapolis to Duluth at a construction cost of $400 million.

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The only rational for this concept seems to be that because we have a train between downtown Minneapolis and the airport, somehow we should also have a train from Minneapolis to Duluth. The other reason for this proposed rail line might be that 80 percent of the capital cost would be federally funded. This seems justified because U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar's Eighth Congressional district contains most of the area through which the train would travel. And as chairman of the House Transportation Committee, Oberstar is in a great position to earmark funds for his district.

Why dub this project the "Train to Nowhere"? Not because Duluth isn't a great city to visit, but because Duluth is not on the way to anywhere, except maybe Grand Marais, a town most Minnesotans have never seen. And the only time most people would want to go to Duluth is in summer.

However, the main reason to term this boondoggle the "Train to Nowhere" is because most of us who would want or need to travel to Duluth prefer to drive. Who would want to take the option of driving to a train station, parking the car, waiting for a train, and then, upon arriving in Duluth, being without transportation? This might be a great option for those participating in Grandma's Marathon, if after their 26.2-mile run, they wanted to walk back uphill to catch the train back home, but it's not an option for most folks. And we cannot forget the "Train to Nowhere" is estimated to make the trip from Minneapolis to Duluth in 3½ hours. That's right, just a little more than one hour longer than it takes to drive the same route!

The "Train to Nowhere" would cost more than $400 million to build, cost millions more each year to operate, and add an hour more to the trip to Duluth than if you drove. It's a true boondoggle by anyone's definition.

So whose brainchild was this? Not our state transportation department; it was dreamt up by several county commissioners in counties along the proposed train route. These are some of the same county commissioners who complained there wasn't enough money for road construction and lobbied for a gas-tax increase. These are some of the same county commissioners who voted to increase the sales tax for transit. These are some of the same county commissioners who have already spent almost half a million dollars of taxpayer money for a $400 million "Train to Nowhere."

There is no logical reason to spend taxpayer dollars on passenger rail service between Duluth and Minneapolis. That is what planes and buses are for if anyone doesn't want to drive. It's time for the state Legislature to take transportation decisions away from myopic and self-serving county commissioners.

Phil Krinkie of Lino Lakes, Minn., is president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota and is a former eight-term, Republican state representative who once chaired the House Tax Committee.

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