Friday, January 23, 2009

Not Just a Local Issue

A commuter rail link from Hastings to Saint Paul is of international importance.

How so? Chicago is making a strong bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games. With Barack Obama as President, this bid has special significance to the White House. Winning the Games would go beyond being just a nice thing for a particular American city. It's the hometown for the U.S. President. His prestige is on the line. In addition, winning the right to host the games would be a great symbol of renewed international respect for the United States.

What does this have to do with a rail line in Minnesota? Soccer.

It just so happens that the proposed Red Rock commuter rail line that would connect Minneapolis - Saint Paul with Hastings runs right by the TCF Stadium site. It also happens that the long term plan for the extension of that very same line is a high-speed link to Chicago. A rail line runs right by Soldier Field, the proposed location for soccer finals. In little more than two-and-a-half hours, fans could go from a morning soccer game in Minneapolis to an afternoon or evening soccer game in Chicago, without having to walk more than a few blocks.

Is this significant? Yeah. When evaluating bids, the International Olympic Committee gives greater weight to different aspects of a city's bid. In the top four of those categories is transportation. Recent bids have been hard-fought and very close. Having a high-speed direct rail line between these two important venues could be the difference between winning and losing.

Why would a temporary event be considered as a driver for permanent infrastructure? You'd be foolish to build a rail line just for the Olympics. However, the Olympics provide a catalyst and structure to support projects that need to be done anyway. When you hear of cities spending billions and billions of dollars on the Olympics, it's the infrastructure that's taking the lion's share of the money. These are investments that cities have wanted to make but haven't had a "crisis" to force action. The Olympics forces action.

When you combine the current financial crisis and the need for a fiscal stimulus with the created crisis of an Olympic bid, you have a great opportunity to move the Red Rock project forward.