Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Article: "Winona Officials Release Details for PRT funding plan"

Winona Daily News:

Winona officials gave new details Tuesday of their proposal to use state, federal and private funds for a PRT test lab at the Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical campus. They'll probably have to vie with other cities, as the Minnesota Department of Transportation soon may solicit proposals for PRT test sites elsewhere, a MnDOT official said Tuesday.


Minnesota legislators considered funding a PRT test lab in 2004 but balked amid skepticism at its viability - and concern that it would drain funding from other transit modes such as light rail. PRT still draws interest from some state lawmakers, though others in key posts recently told a St. Paul think tank they won't support funding for it.

That think tank, the liberal-leaning Minnesota 2020, has criticized Winona's bid to host a PRT test site, saying it "strains credulity."

Minnesota 2020 fellow Conrad DeFiebre last week quoted transit committee chairmen in both chambers - Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. D. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis - as saying they oppose funding the proposal. Neither lawmaker returned calls this week from the Daily News.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, said he welcomes funding for PRT development in Winona or elsewhere. He said lawmakers might discuss whether to fund a study of test sites for PRT during the 2010 legislative session. Murphy's Republican colleague on the transportation committee, Minnetrista Sen. Gen Olson, also said she'd back funding for PRT testing.

Previous attempts to develop PRT have failed or created huge cost overruns, like in Rosemount, Ill., where officials discontinued a PRT project in 1999. But cities worldwide are revisiting the technology: London is building a system at Heathrow Airport slated to operate in 2010, and San Jose, Calif., also is exploring PRT.

MnDOT commissioner Tom Sorel created a post last week to oversee the technology and appointed Mukhtar Thakur as MnDOT's director of PRT development. Thakur said computer technology has improved since the PRT failures of years past. Thakur also said PRT doesn't need to compete with light rail, but could provide "last-mile" transport to complement other transit modes.

Murphy said a PRT test lab could position Minnesota as a global leader in transit technology.

"The face of transportation technology is changing," Murphy said. "We need to get in front of that curve."

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