Now that transit planners have launched a major reboot of the Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project, an important question looms: Just where will it go?
Broadly speaking, the $2 billion public transit line would connect Target Field in Minneapolis with Brooklyn Park. Plans approved more than six years ago, now scuttled, called for the 13-mile line to share much of its route with freight rail trains.
Now there are plans to identify a new route by the end of 2021, and efforts are underway to touch base with the communities Bottineau will serve. But it may be difficult for planners to please everyone along the line.
The original configuration fell apart last summer when it became clear that BNSF Railway had no interest in sharing 8 miles of its right of way with light-rail trains. Officials with Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council opted to concentrate on a new route while maintaining light rail as Bottineau's preferred mode.
So far, about $126 million in local funds have been spent on the project. It's too early to tell what the final price tag will be.
"These projects are never easy," said Sam O'Connell, a spokeswoman for the Met Council, which will build and operate the Bottineau line. "The opportunity here is to do a reset and make sure we're serving even more people."
The alignment may stay the same in certain spots, such as W. Broadway in Brooklyn Park, which is adjacent to BNSF freight tracks. The line's midsection, through Crystal and Robbinsdale along Bottineau Boulevard, could be analyzed for possible changes.
But it's likely planners will give most of their attention to the portion of the line that serves north Minneapolis and Golden Valley.
Bottineau's original alignment bypassed the North Side's core, home to a number of transit-dependent communities.
But the killing of George Floyd last spring cast a harsh light on racial disparities in the Twin Cities and beyond. At a recent advisory committee meeting, several members expressed support for bolstering transit service to minority groups.
"We know how important it is serving communities that traditionally have been marginalized," O'Connell said.
The transit picture has changed dramatically in north Minneapolis since Bottineau's original route was approved.
The $37 million C Line rapid bus began service in 2019 on the North Side along Penn Avenue, and the D Line is expected to serve Fremont and Emerson avenues starting in 2022.
Some say a rerouted Blue Line could better serve north Minneapolis' commercial hub along W. Broadway, linking passengers to the Upper Harbor Terminal development on the Mississippi River.
Minneapolis city officials haven't stated a specific preference. Said spokesman Casper Hill: "The city is collaborating with the Blue Line project team to work through a community-supported realignment conversation that would take place over the coming year. We are dedicated to partnering with people and businesses in north Minneapolis to deliver transit that works for everyone."
Talk at a recent Blue Line Extension Corridor Management Committee meeting also touched on possible service to North Memorial Health Hospital, which employs about 4,000 people in Robbinsdale.
Dr. Kevin Croston, North Memorial's CEO, said in a statement that a Blue Line station near the hospital would address "a long-unmet community need for high-quality, safe and reliable transportation and additional easy access to our Robbinsdale campus."
But serving north Minneapolis and North Memorial could imperil service to Golden Valley, where stations were planned at Golden Valley Road and Plymouth Avenue.
Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris declined to comment this week on Bottineau's future route. But he and other suburban mayors earlier this year supported exerting additional pressure on BNSF to maintain the original route.
The renewed Bottineau project will begin to take shape as President-elect Joe Biden, a supporter of public transportation, takes office and his nominee, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, assumes the helm of the Department of Transportation. There's talk in Washington that big infrastructure projects like Bottineau could generate bipartisan support in Congress.
"This gives us confidence that this administration will continue to be a strong supporter of capital projects," said Dan Soler, Hennepin County's senior program administrator.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752 @ByJanetMoore