Sometimes you’ve got to look more than once to find an interesting tidbit in the Morrison County Record. On first glance, I missed the full article on the meeting of elected officials called together by Little Falls Mayor Cathy VanRisseghem in the October 28, 2007, issue of the paper. When I flipped back to reread it, I noticed there was quite the discussion of the Northstar Corridor, a population/transportation corridor that runs from the Twin Cities north along the Mississippi River. The corridor is expected to see a population explosion of an extra 200,000 people by 2025.

In order to ease traffic congestion along the corridor, a commuter train has been proposed, with the first leg running from Big Lake to the Twin Cities and a potential second leg running from Rice/St. Cloud down to Big Lake. The Big Lake section is already under construction, with work being done on a Minneapolis Light Rail Transit connection and a Vehicle Maintenance Facility in Big Lake. This portion of the commuter rail is due to be completed by late 2009.

There are many people in Morrison County who would like to see it run up here as far as Camp Ripley. Carol Anderson, director of Morrison County Community Development, is all for it, according to the Record article. You go, girl!

In the same article, Randy Winscher of Royalton argues, “The big problem evolves around the fact that people are hauling boats, campers and 4-wheelers. Northstar won’t help that.” He’s right. Sorry to say, but you won’t be able to load your boat, camper or 4-wheeler onto the train. You will, however, be able to bring your bicycle. Here’s the point Randy might be missing. If we can get all the non-boat, non-camper and non-4-wheeler toting vehicles off the road, we might have more room for all of the heavy equipment toters.

A thought that wasn’t expressed in the article was that the Northstar Commuter train would make long-distance travel available to people who don’t own cars. I know several people who live along the corridor who are in this situation and they have great difficulty arranging for rides to other cities along the route. It makes me wonder if this particular population was overlooked when they were crunching the projected ridership numbers for the Hiawatha Light Rail line in the Twin Cities. Ridership exceeded expectations beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. In fact, as of 2005, ridership had exceeded those expectations by 58.2 percent, according to the Metropolitan Council’s Annual Report.

As one of those unexpected riders (albeit I do own a car), I love the Hiawatha line and have taken it numerous times into downtown Minneapolis so that I can avoid traffic congestion that occurs after events. It’s a breeze to ride and eliminates the headaches of finding your way through the maze of one-way (or is that two-way?) streets of Minneapolis. Parking is easier as well, although, if we had a commuter train available from Little Falls to the Twin Cities, we wouldn’t have to worry about parking at all. We could leave the car home.

Frances “Babe” Brisk wasn’t too thrilled about the thought of that traffic becoming two-way. According to the Record article, she said, “Yes, and Mr. and Mrs. Twin Cities then want to change how we live.” Too late! Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Twin Cities have already changed the way we live by building their McMansions all around our lake shores. They’ve brought the boat, camper and 4-wheeler traffic mentioned by Mr. Winscher. We’re already dealing with the effects of the population boom along the corridor. We may as well get something good out of the deal, like the ability to travel easily along the corridor for shopping, health care, and employment opportunities. Maybe with the commuter rail we can encourage Mr. and Mrs. Twin Cities to assist us in producing more higher-paying job opportunities in the central and northern parts of the state.

When it comes to the Northstar Commuter Rail, I’m all for it.

For more information, check out the Northstar Commuter Rail website.

Itching for a speedy swim,

Phineas F. A. Pickerel

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