Several bills heard this session surround a railroad project in Crystal, Minnesota that could have broad implications around the state. The project is a connector track at an intersection between BNSF and Canadian Pacific (CP) railroad lines. Currently, the tracks do not allow trains traveling on the east-west CP track to turn on the north-south NSF track.
If the connector is built, the track would see a large increase in its volume of trains running north-south. The CP tracks see an average of 24 trains a day while the SNSF tracks see only a few a week. This concerns many local officials, as it would allow mile-long trains carrying oil and potentially other hazardous materials through Theo Wirth Park, across I-94, near Target Field, and through downtown Minneapolis.
The proposed track would also affect the ability of first responders to reach emergencies in Crystal and Robbinsdale. The new track would block numerous at-grade crossings, which, due to the increased volume and the increased length of trains, would require first responders to add roughly two to three miles to their trips from the south side of Crystal, where the first responders are housed, to the north side.
An additional concern is the effects of this proposal on several local businesses. There are three businesses on the path of the new connector that would have to be moved in order for the project to be completed.
The three pieces of legislation surrounding this project seek to delay or move the project to a different area.
Resolution for an Environmental Impact Statement
The first piece of legislation is a resolution on behalf of the Minnesota legislature urging the Surface Transportation Board (STB) to order BNSF and Canadian Pacific to complete an environmental impact statement prior to acquiring land, completing final design, or beginning construction of a railroad connector track in the City of Crystal.
STATUS: The bill is on the Senate Floor. (S.F. 886)
Requiring an Environmental Impact Statement
This legislation sets specific parameters when an EIS must be completed on the project. Under the legislation, MnDOT would complete the EIS, and no construction would begin and no governmental decision granting authority for the project may occur until the Commissioner deems the EIS is adequate. This would ensure a thorough environmental review is performed before a project like this changes the character of the community.
STATUS: The bill is in the Finance Committee. (S.F. 1074)
Limiting Eminent Domain Powers of a Railroad Company or Corporation
As concerns around the length of trains and their effects on first responders getting to emergency situations quickly and effectively, public officials are looking for more tools to reduce blocked road connections. This bill is one way to address this issue.
The legislation limits eminent domain power of a railroad corporation or company can exercise over property owned by Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, or the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority if the government power, by resolution, determines that the public safety or access of first responders would be negatively affected.
STATUS: The bill is in the Taxes Committee. (S.F. 1251)
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