Work on the proposed $1.5 billion Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project has hummed along quietly for several years now, often in the shadow of its more-controversial cousin, the Southwest light-rail line.
Now, cities in the northern suburbs near the proposed Blue Line extension’s route — Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Crystal, Golden Valley, New Hope, and Robbinsdale — are stepping up efforts to advocate on the project’s behalf.
“Whenever Southwest [LRT] has experienced challenges, the Blue Line seems to get dropped back,” said Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeffrey Lunde, speaking on behalf of the newly formed coalition, Connect Blue Line Now! “We have some impatience,” Lunde said. “We are ready to go.”
While the Bottineau Blue Line has proceeded with little drama, the $1.9 billion Southwest project has been fraught with delays and controversy. A federal judge is expected to rule soon on a pending lawsuit filed by a group of Minneapolis residents against the Metropolitan Council, which would build and operate the line. Last year, construction bids came in over budget, and now the bid package will be rebid this spring.
The six suburban cities pulling for the Bottineau Blue Line have scraped together about $6,000 to lobby on behalf of the 13-mile light-rail project, which will connect downtown Minneapolis with Brooklyn Park. Because it is an extension of the existing Blue Line, trains could link residents in the northern suburbs to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and to the Mall of America.
A group of bipartisan coalition members attended the Hennepin County Board’s Public Works meeting Tuesday afternoon offering support for the line, and more sessions with state and federal officials are expected in coming months. Late last year, the Blue Line group met with representatives of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in Washington, D.C., which is expected to pay almost half of the project’s price tag.
“It was very encouraging,” Lunde said of the Washington meeting. He said gubernatorial candidates will be interviewed about the line, as well.
The coalition says it supports LRT because it will link metro-area residents with jobs, housing, education and entertainment opportunities. Close to 144,000 jobs will be accessible to passengers using the line in an area where 14 percent of the households are transit dependent, 19 percent are in poverty, and 38 percent of the population are people of color, according to the coalition.
The end of the line, which has 11 stations, is the Oak Grove station in Brooklyn Park, home to Target Corp.’s northern campus. Lunde said the area is prime real estate for other corporate headquarters to potentially locate there — especially if companies desire transit connections.
Lunde said 1,000 acres at the far north Oak Grove station are ready to be developed for corporate use, housing, retail and office space. The group claims about $358 million has been invested in real estate projects along the Bottineau Blue Line so far.
It’s unclear when the Blue Line will begin passenger service. The Met Council had said 2022, but now says the date will be determined later. Last year, the project entered the engineering phase.
One looming challenge may involve negotiating with BNSF Railway so that light rail and freight trains can operate in the same right of way for 8 of the line’s 13 miles.
A late addition to the Southwest project involved BNSF’s insistence on a mile-long crash protection wall separating light-rail and freight trains between the Royalston Avenue/Farmers Market and Bryn Mawr stations in Minneapolis. As a result, more environmental studies were required by FTA and the state, causing some delays. It’s unclear whether BNSF will require a similar barrier for the Blue Line extension.
In an e-mail, Metro Transit spokeswoman Laura Baenen said the Met Council “appreciates all the support for the Blue Line extension.”