Transit planners say two major Xcel Energy underground electric transmission lines will need to be moved to make way for the $3 billion Blue Line light-rail extension in Minneapolis' North Loop neighborhood. The recent disclosure has raised questions about the cost and time needed to move the lines, which provide power to parts of downtown Minneapolis.

Officials with the Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County say they're confident a solution can be reached with Xcel, and that these kinds of discoveries are routine when building a major transit project in a complex urban environment.

"We look at it as just normal coordination [with utilities], although this one takes a little more work," said Nick Landwer, Metro Transit's director of transit system design and engineering. "We're working with the Xcel team to simplify how to get the work done. It doesn't pose an issue at all."

Project opponents were not appeased: "It's just another example of the Met Council not doing their due diligence on these projects," said Matt Bruns, who lives in the 918 Lofts along 10th Avenue, now part of the Blue Line extension route in the North Loop.

Xcel's transmission lines run under 10th Avenue between 7th Street and Washington Avenue, part of which is expected to be used as a transit mall for light-rail trains and a bike and pedestrian trail. Vehicle traffic will be rerouted elsewhere in the area, although it's not known yet where.

The North Loop stretch is a relatively late addition to the project's route after Lyn Park residents complained two years ago about the previous alignment along Lyndale Avenue, west of Interstate 94. The overall 13.5-mile route, which stretches from Target Field to Brooklyn Park through north Minneapolis, Robbinsdale and Crystal, is expected to begin service in 2030.

Because Xcel's transmission lines are located in a public right of way — in this case a city street — the utility will assume the cost to move them, said Dan Soler, Hennepin County's director of transit and mobility.

At this point, officials are unclear how much that would cost. The project has a bottom line estimated at $2.9 billion to $3.2 billion.Construction is expected to begin in 2027.

"Because it's a transmission line, it does take a little longer to relocate," Soler said. "But it doesn't affect the cost of the light-rail project. We have to build it into our schedule. We've got a tremendous amount of experience with this kind of thing."

Soler said there were complexities rerouting utilities in downtown St. Paul and along University Avenue for the Green Line light-rail project, which began service nearly a decade ago. "You have to get in there and investigate early to see what's there," he said.

Xcel Energy spokesman Theo Keith said the utility has had preliminary discussions with transit planners and the city about the transmission lines. "This process is in the very early stages, and we're committed to continuing to work with stakeholders on a way forward," he said in an email.

But Bruns and others have been apprehensively following the fallout from the $2.9 billion Southwest light-rail line under construction between Target Field and Eden Prairie, which is more than $1 billion over budget and nearly a decade behind schedule. Cracks and flooding at the Cedar Isles condominium complex during light-rail construction in the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis, as well as the recent revelation that rail tracks in that area were installed improperly "are very concerning," he said.

Those opposed to the 10th Avenue alignment have proposed an alternate route closer to Interstate 94 that is less disruptive to the neighborhood. That alignment "avoids some things but it doesn't serve as many people," Soler said. "Certainly there are people who would prefer it." Others, including a group in Robbinsdale, have suggested scrapping light rail in favor of bus-rapid transit service.

Some in the North Loop like the 10th Avenue transit mall concept, including the North Loop Neighborhood Association's Planning and Zoning Committee.

Minneapolis City Council Members Jeremiah Ellison and Michael Rainville, whose districts include part of the North Loop, did not respond to requests from the Star Tribune for comment.

The original route for the Blue Line extension, which largely operated alongside BNSF Railway freight trains, did not serve the North Loop or much of north Minneapolis, and was abandoned in 2020 after the rail giant refused to share its right of way. Transit planners then pitched a different route that better served north Minneapolis.

But that route proved controversial among neighbors in Lyn Park along Lyndale Avenue N., who said light-rail service would divide their neighborhood and be unsafe. Transit planners regrouped and came up with the North Loop route east of Interstate 94, which calls for a new bridge over the highway into north Minneapolis.

"I'm hoping that [10th Avenue] route is viable or something similar is," said Lyn Park resident Eva Young at a recent Blue Line extension advisory committee meeting. "I don't want the Lyndale route to come back to haunt us."