Light-rail may be Bottineau Line option

Recent public meetings found a preference for light-rail, which would cost more than a busway but offer several advantages.

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Light-rail could become an option in the Bottineau Transitway between Minneapolis and Maple Grove or Brooklyn Park.

While nothing is set in stone for a proposed transit corridor in the north Hennepin County suburbs, one thing is clear after recent public meetings: people prefer a train to a bus, even though the latter would cost less.

"It's fair to say that light-rail transit has more support than bus rapid transit," said Joe Gladke, who manages engineering and transit planning for Hennepin County.

He added, however, that opinions are "all over the place" on the different routes being studied.

The next couple months will be critical for the Bottineau Transitway, a 13-mile line that would connect downtown Minneapolis with either Maple Grove or Brooklyn Park. It's the latest corridor being considered for light-rail transit, along with the Southwest line.

The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority soon will make recommendations on the best of the four proposed routes -- factoring in such things as cost, noise, traffic and environmental impacts -- as well as whether the transitway should be a $1 billion light-rail line or a $560 million busway.

The Metropolitan Council expects to choose a route and mode by the end of the year, paving the way for an environmental impact statement and the highly competitive federal funding process.

Officials hope that federal funding will cover half the cost, with the other half coming from the region, county and state.

Much is at stake, Commissioner Mark Stenglein said last week at the Railroad Authority meeting. The group consists of Hennepin County Board members.

"These are millennial decisions that really are going to affect the growth patterns in that part of the county," said Stenglein, who represents part of the area covered by the proposed line. "There's certainly a lack of transit up in that part of the county and this is going to certainly fix that problem."

'Line showing promise'

Whatever route is chosen, its midsection would shadow County Road 81 -- also called Bottineau Boulevard -- through Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park. It's at the top and bottom of the corridor where the alternatives come in.

On the north end, one option is to shoot the line west to the Arbor Lakes shopping complex in Maple Grove. The other is to continue north along Broadway Avenue to the Target campus in Brooklyn Park.

On the south end, the line could go through Minneapolis' Near North neighborhood along Penn Avenue and W. Broadway, or along a train corridor near Theodore Wirth Park in Golden Valley.

Nearly 400 people attended four community meetings in January, lodging 295 comments about line preferences and possible effects on like property values, vibration and parking.

Gladke said that Bottineau's latest weekday ridership estimates from the Met Council for 2030 are 26,000 to 27,600 for light-rail, and 19,900 for a busway. Based on demand, buses would disrupt traffic slightly more than trains, he said. Travel times are faster for a train.

Buses would be quieter and cause less vibration than trains. The busway also would be cheaper than a light-rail line, although a train would cost less per passenger than a bus, he said.

Federal officials will consider all those factors in deciding whether to fund the project, as well as how well the line would serve the disadvantaged. About half the line would go through areas with twice the county's average rate of minority and low-income populations.

"We're getting to a significant point here in the history of this corridor," Rail Authority Chairman Peter McLaughlin said. "This line has really matured and I think it's showing great promise."

Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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