Big Bottineau light-rail transit vote comes to Hennepin County Board on Tuesday

  • Article by: ROCHELLE OLSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 2, 2013 - 11:58 PM

With federal money at stake, the Hennepin County Board faces a key vote Tuesday on the Bottineau light-rail line.

 

The Bottineau light-rail transit line begins in Brooklyn Park and stretches to Berlin, Bangladesh, Bangkok and beyond.

That’s how Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat sees it. Opat, who represents the inner-ring northwestern suburbs, says the time has come for the northern part of the metro area to get the sort of ground-shifting investments he has seen go south.

“I do want this badly,” he said last week. “That area is slow to get infrastructure. Too often we trail behind other sections of the metro.”

At the Hennepin County Board meeting on Tuesday, the Bottineau line will lurch forward with a vote to spend $18.4 million on development and engineering plans for the project. Within a month or so, an additional $27.6 million contribution is expected from a regional transportation panel.

The county must tag the money for the project to send a message to the Federal Transit Authority that the region is serious about the Bottineau line. Federal money for such projects is competitive and the eagerness of a local community weighs mightily in the process, so Tuesday’s vote is significant. What is now called the Bottineau line will connect with the Hiawatha line, together becoming the Blue Line.

“In order for us to advance our project, we have to enter the project development stage,” said Joe Gladke, county manager of engineer and transit planning.

Hoping to avoid trouble

Studies, planning and public outreach are major components of the preparation. County officials are extremely mindful of the current stalls and setbacks of the Southwest corridor line. The hope is to avoid similar issues with this line.

“Could we see a similar situation with Bottineau? Anything’s possible when you do a public process like this,” Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris said.

Golden Valley balked once. Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, Robbinsdale and Crystal readily endorsed the project, but Golden Valley’s City Council said no, primarily out of concern for Theodore Wirth Park and Mary Hills Nature Area. The council reversed itself last summer, agreeing to move ahead with the environmental review and station plans.

An advisory panel including residents from all the cities on the line already has begun meeting. Harris said a lot of public outreach is underway and that discussion is critical to the development of the line.

“There are always things people bring up for better or for worse. I’d like to think it won’t be as challenging [as Southwest],” he said.

For Harris, that means making sure the environmental impact of the line is minimal and that Golden Valley residents don’t shoulder an undue share of costs.

‘Potential is huge’

Opat welcomes big projects. He was the architect of the deal that got the Target Field built for the Minnesota Twins. But he’s never sounded more enthusiastic than he does about Bottineau. “You could literally get on the train in Brooklyn Park with your credit card and a plane ticket and go anywhere in the world,” he said.

The line also would converge at the under-construction Target Field Station with the light-rail line to St. Paul opening next year, plus Southwest and commuter rail lines.

Opat talks about how the Bottineau line will pass through downtown Robbinsdale, his hometown, in front of the well-known restaurant Travail, by an outdated strip mall on Bass Lake Road and surface parking in Brooklyn Park. “The redevelopment potential is huge,” he said.

Opat also said he has learned from the Southwest project, which is now delayed while Minneapolis’ concerns are addressed. “The overall lesson is you have to make sure you’re communicating with people about potential problems long before they arise,” he said.

The money for the Bottineau project is expected to pass.“I don’t know how much we’re going to get and when we’re going to get it,” Gladke said of the state request.

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