ST. CLOUD -- The Minnesota House Transportation Committee is meeting here in St. Cloud on Friday. One of the biggest topics of discussion is expected to be a bill to extend the Northstar Commuter Rail to St. Cloud.

DFL Representative Dan Wolgamott of St. Cloud has co-authored this bill along with Republican Tama Theis of St. Cloud.

Wolgamott says his bill is not just a study, it provides over $7.3 million in state money

My bill has over $7 million to really get the project going.  It has money for the preliminary and final engineering, for environmental analysis and mitigation, for land acquisition including right-of-way, it's got capital improvements for the tracks, the signal and rail crossings...

Wolgamott says the bill also authorizes to start negotiations with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad.

Wolgamott says, while the bill gets the project started, it would take years to get it done with a lot of details still to be worked out.

This is not the end-all-be-all of the details of the project.  This is a bill that takes a project that has been dead for almost 10 years and has real money starting in our next fiscal year.

The bill would have two state funding streams with $6.5 million in a bonding bill, and another $850,000 coming from the general fund.

Wolgamott calls the Northstar Extension "one of the most important things the state could invest in", however, he says it is not known what the total cost would be.  The first phase from Big Lake to Minneapolis cost $320 million back in 2009.

Republican Representative Tim O'Driscoll of Sartell has introduced a separate bill that would study the feasibility of extending Northstar from Big Lake all the way to Camp Ripley.

The House Transportation committee will be meeting on Friday at St. Cloud City Hall from 12:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. There will be time for public testimony.

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