A busway in the northwest suburbs? Or light rail?
For at least six years, planners and policymakers have been talking about a transit line connecting the northwest metro suburbs with downtown Minneapolis. Now it's the people's turn.
In the next week and a half, Hennepin County will host four open houses to get public feedback on proposed modes and routes for the 13-mile Bottineau Transitway. The choice is between a dedicated busway and a light-rail line, which would be more expensive than a busway but is thought to be preferred by local officials and businesses.
County officials also want to find out what people think about various possible routes. The middle portion of the line would shadow County Road 81 -- also called Bottineau Boulevard -- through Brooklyn Park, Crystal and Robbinsdale.
But on the north end, the line could go west into Maple Grove near 77th Avenue N., ending at the Arbor Lakes shopping complex, or head farther north along Broadway Avenue to the Target campus in Brooklyn Park.
Two different south-end options exist: a train corridor along Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley, or a route following W. Broadway and Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis.
"It's a complicated decision ... and every time you make these decisions there are trade-offs. That's what the next few months will be," said Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who heads the county's regional railroad authority.
'People like trains'
The open houses are part of a long process to compete for federal funding for the project, which could cost $900 million to $1 billion if a light-rail line is built and roughly half that for a busway. Officials hope that federal funding can cover half the cost, with the other half coming from the region, county and state.
If the process goes without many hitches, the line could be up and running by the end of 2018.
The numbers suggest that the investment is justified, said Joe Gladke, who manages engineering and transit planning for Hennepin County. Even so, he said, "We need to make sure there's support for it from the communities through which it will run."
Between 2010 and 2030, nearly 60 percent of the county's projected population growth of 242,000 is expected to occur in cities along the Bottineau corridor, with more growth north and west of the corridor.
Moreover, 14 percent of households in the corridor area do not own cars, according to federal census figures. That's nearly double the metro area average of 8 percent of households without a vehicle.
Employment pockets in the corridor include downtown Minneapolis, North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Target in Brooklyn Park and Arbor Lakes in Maple Grove. Population and job growth are expected to boost traffic volume near the corridor by 15 to 20 percent.
The decision of whether to go for an LRT line or a busway will depend in part on which mode is most likely to win federal funding, Gladke said. More people seem to prefer the train to a busway, he said.
"People like trains," he said. "We don't really have bus rapid transit in the region."
The 'scoping' phase
McLaughlin said the Bottineau corridor forms one leg of a giant transit X across the Twin Cities, along with the Hiawatha Line, the under-construction Central Corridor and the proposed Southwest Line. Gov. Mark Dayton is seeking $25 million in bonding this session for the Southwest Line.
If Bottineau became a LRT line, a rider would be able to take the train from Brooklyn Park and continue on the Hiawatha tracks to the Mall of America in Bloomington without leaving his seat, he said.
The Bottineau project now is in the so-called "scoping" phase, which ends next month. Using information gathered in the next week, the county rail authority and participating cities will forward a recommended alternative to the Metropolitan Council. Then a draft environmental impact statement can be prepared and federal funding can be pursued.
McLaughlin said policymakers look on the open houses as "critically important" to Bottineau's success.
"You get people who live or work in the neighborhood, they're there every day, and they have a different sense of what the trade-offs are, a textured sense. We want to hear that," he said. "If you build strong support at the front end, you will be better able to deal with the hurdles as they come along."
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455