The Minnesota Senate on Monday afternoon passed an amendment to the Senate Transportation omnibus bill prohibiting the Minnesota Department of Transportation from spending funds on the Northern Lights Express (NLX) passenger rail project, a route that would provide passenger rail service between Duluth and Minneapolis, with proposed stops in Hinckley, Cambridge, Coon Rapids, and Superior, WI. Following passage of the amendment on party lines, Senator Jen McEwen (DFL–Duluth) issued the following statement:
“I’m extremely disappointed in my Republican colleagues, especially those whose communities stand to benefit, for their lack of support for Northern Lights Express passenger rail. This is a bipartisan effort up north. People want choices. They don’t want to be tied down to having to use their cars, with no other options,” said Senator McEwen. “NLX will open up so many opportunities– to work in Duluth, Minneapolis, or elsewhere along the route– to provide veterans up north with easier access to the Minneapolis VA– and to give everyone more choices for transportation and travel between the twin cities and northeast Minnesota. All of the potential benefits were jeopardized this afternoon by Republicans’ votes to cut funding for this critical project. Their votes are out of line with the broad support we see for this project in our communities.”
NLX Funding Rejected by GOP Senators Representing NLX Route Communities
The amendment to prohibit spending on NLX, authored by Senator Dave Osmek (R-Mound), was supported by all 34 Senate Republicans, including those who represent communities on the NLX route. Members who represent communities on the NLX route and voted to cut funding for the project included Senator Jason Rarick (R–Pine City), Senator Mark Koran (R–North Branch), Senator Michelle Benson (R–Ham Lake), and Senator Roger Chamberlain (R–Lino Lakes).
Project Supported by Minnesota Labor, Business Groups, Nonprofits
Many of Minnesota’s top labor unions have issued public letters of support for the project, including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen; the Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Union; the Minnesota Building and Construction Trades Council; the Duluth Building and Construction Trades Council; and LIUNA Minnesota & North Dakota.
A number of business groups have also offered their support for NLX, including the Duluth Seaway Port Authority, the East Central Regional Development Commission, the Duluth Chamber of Commerce, the Anoka Area Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce, the North 65 Chamber of Commerce, GPS:45:93, and the Minneapolis Downtown Council.
Finally, a handful of Minnesota’s top academic institutions have endorsed NLX, including Pine Technical and Community College, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, The College of St. Scholastica, Lake Superior College, University of Minnesota – Duluth, and University of Wisconsin – Superior.