Rochester “Zip Rail” Could Add $1B a Year to MN Economy

A new analysis suggests that the economic benefits of a proposed high-speed rail between Rochester and the Twin Cities could "easily exceed both the initial capital cost and the long-term operating cost of the proposed project."

A proposed high-speed rail between Rochester and the Twin Cities would have a positive economic impact of about $987 million annually for the state of Minnesota, according to a study conducted for Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. (RAEDI), a proponent of the project.

The analysis, which was conducted by Arlington, Virginia-based consulting firm R.L. Banks & Associates, Inc., claims that the economic benefits of the project-which has been dubbed the Zip Rail-could “easily exceed both the initial capital cost and the long-term operating cost of the proposed project.”

It has been estimated that the overall project would cost roughly $1 billion, according to RAEDI, which pointed out that the price tag puts the project in the same ballpark as the Central Corridor light-rail line, which is expected to cost $956 million.

The proposed Rochester line would travel at speeds of between 150 and 220 miles per hour, carrying passengers on a route of 100 miles in less than 50 minutes. RAEDI said that the Zip Rail could eventually also connect passengers to Chicago, but the analysis focuses on a direct line between Rochester and the Twin Cities.

In addition to the nearly $1 billion in annual economic activity that the project could mean for the state, Olmsted County’s benefit would total about $84 million annually, according to the report.

The project could also add $46 million in annual state tax revenue, as well as $3 million in taxes for Olmsted County, the report states.

The project would create an estimated 3,250 construction jobs, but it would also have a long-term impact on employment: The report suggests that, over the course of 25 years, the rail would help increase employment in the state by 7,888 jobs.

The analysis was conducted using economic development software that taps databases of employment and economic activity in the state. RAEDI says its preliminary study supports a more detailed economic analysis by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

RAEDI President Gary Smith said in a statement that the new analysis “offers valuable data that helps the public, leaders, and policymakers understand the emerging ‘business case’ for Zip Rail.”

RAEDI acknowledges that cities the size of Rochester typically aren’t able to support a 100-mile rail, but it claims that traffic generated by the Mayo Clinic, IBM, and “other bio-medical and high-tech entities in and around Rochester creates a dynamic passenger demand for efficient and high-quality transportation.”

Olmsted County Regional Rail Authority, the City of Rochester, the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Mayo Clinic are advocating for the rail line, which could take up to 15 years to build, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio.

The Rochester Post-Bulletin reported earlier this month that Olmsted County is currently seeking more than $5 million for a preliminary project study, but there are plenty of legislative roadblocks that stand in the way. For example, a bill seeking funding for an analysis of the project’s feasibility reportedly lacks the support of Republican House members.

To learn more about the proposed project-and some of the obstacles it faces-read the full Post-Bulletin story here.