The earnest money’s in for the Bottineau light-rail line.

The five-county Counties Transit Improvement Board last week approved giving Hennepin County $27.6 million, 60 percent of the cost, for project planning. The money adds to the $18.4 million committed by Hennepin to submit a formal request to the federal government for the project, which flows from Minneapolis through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park.

As early as mid-2014, the Federal Transit Administration could decide whether to let Bottineau enter into development, which would including completing the engineering and the environmental study. That stage is expected to take two years.

In a letter to colleagues, Commissioners Mike Opat and Linda Higgins called the money approval a “HUGE step forward” that shows “Bottineau has support across the entire region.”

The line is expected to connect downtown with the Southwest, Central and Hiawatha lines.

ROCHELLE OLSON | @rochelleolson