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  Workshop 6: Civic Engagement  
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Workshop 6

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Teacher Perspectives: Commuter rail project

Bill Mittlefehldt: This is a team of three junior females who engaged in this voluntarily because they had heard about it in our modern global class. One of the issues that they deal with is population growth and transportation. On Route 169, the traffic volume has quadrupled since they cut the lanes down—two lanes are shut now out of four. The girls are trying to get the state legislature to allocate funding. President Bush, in his budget proposal for this year, has allocated $147 million to build a train in Minnesota along our most urban corridor. There are a million more people that are going to move into this corridor in the next 20 years. If we don’t have a rail option, people are going to shoot at each other on some of our freeways and expressways. The girls have a total combined driving experience of two and a half years. They’re smart enough to realize this is not fun, and it’s going to get a lot worse when you add one million people to it. So they wanted to dig in, grab hold, and try to make a difference.

Last week they were at the state legislature lobbying, working from the Senate majority leader’s office. The Senate majority [leader] is very much in favor of this, but he’s had a problem politically getting the House to go along with it so, partly as a political ploy, the girls delivered a 12-page petition from Anoka High School students saying, “We, the students of the future and the next generation of commuters, want that train for this region.” That team has also worked with the county commissioner and the mayor. We had a City Council member in class, and [he mentioned] that he thought the North Star Rail Corridor was dead at the legislature for this year. This is a critical year because if we don’t allocate $30 million or $40 million, the 147 million federal dollars go to another state to build their infrastructure, which is just totally stupid. The girls understood that so they went and did some double-checking, and they found out that it’s not dead, it’s just bleeding tremendously, and it’s going to be dead by May 20 if the legislature doesn’t allocate the funding. The Senate had passed the funding for it, but the House had not, so it was in a political stalemate. When the county and the city heard that there was a team of very talented Anoka kids ready to make a go of it, they rallied the troops, helped train the girls, got them maps, got them information, loaded their cannons, and then sent them down to lobby for the county and the city. It was a tremendous deal. They were down there for six hours. They ended up having a press conference where the commissioner of transportation came and spoke. But the girls organized the press conference, and this was after they delivered 12 pages of signatures on the petition from Anoka High School students saying they wanted that rail corridor to be funded.

Those girls have worked with three levels of government and they’ve gotten fabulous support. They were soft-pedaling the political thing, because they identified the political enemy, and it was consistent, no matter whom they talked to. They identified the people who were going to nix this thing, and that means the community is going to kiss away $147 million. That just makes no sense. So, I think the city will try and do something, but there’s only about seven days left in the session, and the girls are willing to make a videotape and the cable people will be willing to air it. [They] produced that video in two weeks. Those young women are going to be very politically savvy by the time they’re done with college.


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