Updated: 04/05/2013 11:10 AM KSTP.com By: Mark Albert
The Northern Lights Express, a proposed high-speed rail line connecting the Twin Cities and Duluth, is now picking up speed, transportation leaders believe, after getting an environmental green light and gathering public comment Thursday night in what the person spearheading the project described as "a big milestone."
"We are going to move forward," Julie Carr, the NLX project manager, said in an interview.
Carr led an environmental assessment open house Thursday at the Armed Forces Community Center in Cambridge, where a court reporter transcribed public comments and large posterboards showcased the project, which MnDOT estimates will cost between $800-$950 million.
"Today is a big milestone for this project," said Carr.
"MnDOT is committed to the Northern Lights Express... It is travel for the future," Carr added.
The 155-mile route would speed passengers at up to 110 miles per hour between Minneapolis and Duluth, a trip that would take between two to two and a half hours, since speeds would be slower in the cities and time would be factored in for stops at stations along the way.
Cambridge is one of four proposed stops, along with Coon Rapids; Hinckley; and Superior, Wisconsin. Click here for a route map.
The state is using $8 million in initial funding to move into a preliminary engineering stage later this year, which could last for two or three years.
Final funding to actually build the project has not been secured. Typically, the federal government would pay 80 percent of such a project, were it to be approved.
There have been concerns about whether ridership would be sufficient to pay for the line's annual operating costs. Some people at the forum Thursday shared other financial concerns.
Twins fans leaving Target Field earlier Thursday who were buying light rail tickets expressed mixed views.
Billy Cox of St. Paul who supports rail in the metro, thought a Minneapolis to Duluth line would be "a waste of taxpayers' money."
Jesse Woodruff of Minneapolis, though, called the NLX line a "cool" idea.
To hear more comments and see where the NLX would begin in Minneapolis, watch our story above.