by William Hume
Special to Sun Thisweek and Dakota County Tribune
Get rich by rail!
Burnsville economic development plans for the future would get a huge boost if the old Dan Patch rail spur would be revitalized. Infrastructure is shovel ready and waiting for the energetic leadership it will take to use it again as an urban artery of commerce. This rail transit line is offering sustainable economic growth and regional tax base for Burnsville and surrounding Dakota County.
The old railroad track is these days hidden by an overgrowth of trees and various scrub brush, certainly not suitable for your backyard garden. Drive over the bridge on West County Road 42 by County Road 5 and there it is, lying north-south in a valley geography.
Originally designed and built over 100 years ago as an electric-powered freight line, this inter-urban rail line could not only support small industrial business freight service, but possibly light-rail commuter service.
If you have seen the rail and wood ties overgrown in Burnsville with weeds, you’ve probably wondered who owns the track and right of way. I contacted Andy Cummings, manager of media relations, Canadian Pacific Railroad. Andy informed me, “CP owns the entire MN & S corridor from MN & S Junction (New Hope-Plymouth border) to Northfield, except for the bridge over the Minnesota River at Savage-Bloomington and the approach to it, which are owned by TC & W. Progressive Rail currently leases the line from the Interstate 35 overpass south to Northfield.”
Now you know who owns this strategically placed rail. Now let’s talk about rehab, and getting it ready for business. For miles it runs through Burnsville and Dakota County.
I asked Vicki Stute, president of the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce, if she would comment on this rail line operating again. Vicki said, “Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce supports a long-term, comprehensive, multimodal transportation system in order for the business community to effectively and efficiently move its products and services, as well as its commuting employees. As transportation planning occurs and decisions are made, a thoughtful and thorough cost-benefit analysis should be considered regarding any new additions or improvements, and maintenance of existing infrastructure, to ensure the best use of taxpayer dollars and a strong return on investment for the region.” It’s absolutely necessary that a Chamber of Commerce supports and sells the strategic capitalism of its region.
In the Twin Cities metro area, each suburban city competes for sustained economic growth. Location by distance and time to roads, bridges and rail transit are of critical importance in attracting new business and residential development. An urban city plans and functions on tax revenue. Several metro cities have huge industrial parks drawing tax wealth from highly profitable manufacturers and private business offices. Other suburban villages have high-income residential taxpayers, each paying tens of thousands of dollars in local property tax for their home sites. Combine both of these urban assets and you have the perfect suburb.
Imagine revitalized Dan Patch rail transit. How can this vital infrastructure running through Burnsville be rebuilt? I’ll list an order of design and eventual construction progression I think would be a logical approach. Let me break it down.
Today, the Dan Patch (CP) rail line passes close to residential and Burnsville parks land. An environmental impact survey (EIS) would have to be completed to assess all implications for the natural and residential environments. Confirmation would be needed to prove that this enterprise is a desired addition to Burnsville commerce.
Dan Patch is a rail line for profit, commercial business development and return on investment for the owners. A plan called a sustainability report would estimate this freight transit’s potential. An opportunity exists for a railroad and suburb to form a public-private cooperative to create jobs, industrial tax base and a strategic economic location for future growth.
Hard rail commuter transportation such as the Northstar Commuter Rail Line would be an additional option from the western suburbs all the way to Northfield.
New infrastructure is the best way a village can display a progressive outlook. Hopefully the city of Burnsville and Canadian Pacific Railroad will cooperate to bring new and prosperous life to the old Dan Patch rail line.
William Hume writes nationally about transportation issues. He is a retired infrastructure land surveyor for civil engineering and resident of Burnsville. He can be reached at [email protected]. Columns reflect the opinion of the author.