Unveiling their proposed route for the Blue Line light-rail extension Thursday, Metropolitan Council staffers said they would avoid Lyndale Avenue and much of W. Broadway in north Minneapolis as the trains wind their way between downtown and Brooklyn Park.
The recommended route is far from final, but it constitutes a significant victory for groups who strongly opposed earlier plans that had light-rail tracks aligned with Lyndale and Broadway — a route critics said would depress property values, split a predominantly Black neighborhood in two and wreak havoc on W. Broadway small businesses.
"I feel like you guys heard us loud and clear," said Minneapolis City Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, speaking to the Met Council staff after the recommended route was announced at a meeting of the Corridor Management Committee, a group of elected people and citizens who live along the route.
The route would have trains leaving Target Field and traveling north along N. 7th Street and then 10th Avenue before turning west onto Washington Avenue. The trains would then cross a new bridge along 21st Avenue over Interstate 94 and run for several blocks before joining W. Broadway near James Avenue. They would then follow W. Broadway and Bottineau Boulevard up to Brooklyn Park.
The route must still win approval from the Met Council, Hennepin County and every city along the way including Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park.
The latest Metro Transit timeline calls for opening the Blue Line extension, which will connect with the Blue Line running from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America, no sooner than 2028. The project was estimated to cost $1.54 billion in 2019.
Transit planners envision the new 21st Avenue bridge over I-94 as a multipurpose span for cars, bicyclists and pedestrians as well as light rail. The at-grade design shown Thursday was praised by Ellison, who said earlier bridge designs were more like walls that would have closed off north Minneapolis.
"The changes you've made are responsive to the community and our feedback," he said.
Meg Forney, president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, urged transit planners to consider making the 21st Avenue crossing a land bridge that would connect north Minneapolis neighborhoods with the Mississippi River, a link that was lost with the construction of I-94 years ago.
It's not yet clear how many houses or other buildings would have to be demolished or moved to make way for the proposed route. Those details will become more clear as the route plan comes together, said Nick Thompson, deputy general manager for Metro Transit in charge of capital projects.
Dan Soler, senior program administrator for Hennepin County and one of the key planners for the Blue Line extension, said planners looked at many options for the line's Penn Avenue Station. All the options, he said, would require some property acquisition.
The possible loss of buildings will require significant investment to prevent long-term harm to the community served by the light-rail line, said several members of the Corridor Management Committee. Such "anti-displacement" efforts could be funded by the federal government, the private sector or foundations, Thompson said.
It's too early to know what funds may be available, but that kind of uncertainty has left people along the route worried they won't see any investment in the community.
"I really want to make sure that people know … that these community assets will be invested in for the long run," Hennepin County Board Chair Irene Fernando said.
North Minneapolis business owner K.B. Brown, who is on the corridor committee, said he's concerned about the lack of details. As owner of Wolfpack Promotionals, across W. Broadway from the Capri Theater, he said he's spent three years attending committee meetings to learn what the train line will bring.
"The disinvestment is rampant up and down Broadway," he said. "We are being told this is going to benefit our community, but we're not being told how."