Northstar State Gets Boost as Gov. Signs Bonding Bill

Sat April 23, 2005 - Midwest Edition

COON RAPIDS, MN (AP) Gov. Tim Pawlenty promised relief to traffic-choked northern suburbs by signing a bill that frees up $37.5 million for a commuter rail line connecting Minneapolis and Big Lake.

But before the train can rumble down the tracks, project planners need to secure $132 million in federal money and another $50 million from the state.

The Northstar line was the most celebrated –– and the most controversial –– project in a $945 million public works bill the governor signed into law. About $886 million of the debt will be borne by the state.

The 40-mi. commuter rail line could be completed in 2008, if the rest of the federal and state money is approved.

Pawlenty, a Republican, said he’ll push for the second installment next year and he is confident the Legislature will come through.

“The momentum is now behind the project,” he said. “And to have this much invested in it and not go forward would be silly.”

Tim Yantos, the Northstar project director, said federal officials were adamant about seeing a state downpayment before giving final approval to the project.

More than a dozen lawmakers from both parties joined Pawlenty for the ceremonial bill signing at a park-and-ride lot that will house one of Northstar’s stations.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, said the entire bonding bill would result in 10,000 to 12,000 construction jobs around the state.

The largest beneficiaries of the bonding bill are public colleges. The bill contains $108.3 million for the University of Minnesota and $213.6 million for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

Also included is $125 million for prison expansions and the construction of a secure nursing facility for sex offenders.

Pawlenty is holding events to highlight the college projects and $21 million for a new Siberian exhibit at the Minnesota Zoo.