Dayton brings rail safety and transportation plans to Bemidji, Moorhead

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Governor Dayton has taken his plan for improving rail safety – and a controversial transportation proposal – on the road, telling two northwestern Minnesota cities how it would affect them directly.

Dayton wants rail companies to help cover the cost of improvements that would decrease traffic congestion and increase safety along railroad routes used to ship oil through Minnesota, the Bemidji Pioneer reports.

As for his transportation plan, Dayton is calling for a gasoline tax to help fund improvements to crumbling roads and bridges across the state. It's met with resistance from Republicans, who argue Minnesota's large budget surplus makes a gas tax hike unnecessary.

But what does his plan mean at the county and city level?

In a speech in Moorhead Monday morning, Dayton indicated that Clay County (and some surrounding counties) would receive up to $660 million in funding to help improve 106 miles of roads in northwestern Minnesota, the Forum reports. For Moorhead, that includes an underpass that would "separate rail and street traffic."

Later in the day at Bemidji City Hall, Dayton said the plan would invest $184 million in transportation improvements in the "six-county area" over the next decade, according to the Chamber of Commerce's Facebook.

Rail safety funding

Dayton is also serious about improving railway safety, in light of a recent report indicating that local first responders in Minnesota are "not prepared" to deal with a rail disaster.

According to the Forum, Dayton said $480,000 a year would go toward safety funding in Clay County, through which seven or eight trains carrying crude oil pass daily.

Another problem is that rail congestion is leading to traffic problems, which in turn have caused serious delays for emergency vehicles around the state.

Dayton thinks the railroads ought to help pay for improvements that would alleviate these issues, specifically through taxes.

According to KFGO, he isn't concerned about a legal backlash from the rail companies – “If they want to go to court, we’ll go to court,” he said.

Dayton's visits come on the same day that U.S. Sen. Al Franken wrote a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration asking that Bakken crude oil from North Dakota be made "less volatile" before it's shipped through Minnesota and the rest of the country.

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