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Commentary: Region must work together on rail

During the 1860s, President Abraham Lincoln helped inspire the railroad transportation revolution in America. Then the arrival of a railroad helped develop open west central Minnesota during the late 1800s.

This is especially true for the many towns along the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway corridor from Minneapolis to Willmar and points to the southwest, west and northwest. The railroad remained a single critical factor in the opening and development of west central Minnesota.

In the 1950s, President Dwight Eisenhower inspired the Interstate Highway system. Unfortunately, the four-lane interstate system bypassed west central Minnesota. We are still trying to catch up, striving to complete a four-lane connection from Willmar along Minnesota Highway 23 to Interstate 94, near St. Cloud.

A four-lane connection remains a critical factor to economic development for WIllmar and west central Minnesota. This four-lane factor is often a mandatory requirement for many businesses making expansion or location decisions.

Now the redevelopment of passenger rail has started growing in Minnesota again. It is critical that west central Minnesota work in a bipartisan manner to facilitate passenger rail on the BNSF tracks along U.S. Highway 12 and Interstate 394 from Minneapolis to Willmar and then westward.

DFL and Republican politicians along with local economic officials have made a good start with the creation of the Little Crow Transit Way concept. The goal is passenger service from Minneapolis to Willmar, along with a longer-term goal of passenger service from Willmar to Sioux Falls.

The politics of rail are improving. The Hiawatha light rail line in Minneapolis and Bloomington is successful. The Northstar commuter rail line will soon start from Minneapolis to Big Lake.

Planning is underway on the Central Corridor light-rail project from Minneapolis to St. Paul, a high-speed rail project from the Chicago to St. Paul and the Northern Lights passenger rail project from Minneapolis to Duluth.

It is critical that everyone along the corridor work together to promote the Little Crow Transit Way and support its inclusion in the comprehensive statewide rail plan currently being developed.

The development of four-lane access and passenger rail service in west central Minnesota is crucial to the economic future of this region.