Public transit advocates on Thursday vowed to revive the Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project even though its longstanding route between Minneapolis and the northern suburbs was scrapped last summer.
They also have a powerful advocate in their corner — Gov. Tim Walz, who made an appearance at a Blue Line advisory committee meeting on Thursday.
“You’ve demonstrated remarkable leadership, I know there have been frustrations, but now is the time to write the next chapter,” Walz said. “The state of Minnesota will not turn away from investments that will shape our future, and this clearly is a big piece of that.”
The Bottineau light-rail project, a $1.5 billion extension of the existing Blue Line, was originally planned to link Target Field to Brooklyn Park through north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and Crystal.
Passenger service was slated to begin in 2024, but now the timeline is unclear.
Eight miles of Bottineau’s 13-mile route was supposed to be shared with freight trains on tracks owned by BNSF Railway. But the Texas-based rail giant has made it clear in recent years that it’s not interested in such an arrangement.
In August, the Met Council and Hennepin County abandoned the original route for the line, acknowledging any further talks with BNSF would be futile.
The decision initially infuriated suburban mayors and some community partners, who had argued that more aggressive negotiations with BNSF should continue.
But Walz said Thursday he’s spoken with the railway “on numerous occasions and I do not think they will change their position now or ever.”
The governor added that it’s important to move ahead without worrying about an unwilling partner.
“Let’s build the coalition to get this thing done,” he said.
Both Walz and Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle on Thursday committed to light rail for the project — some had suggested that buses should be considered as an alternative. Most Republicans at the Capitol do not support further investment in light rail.
But Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde said he was relieved the mode of the Blue Line will remain light rail.
“It was important for the governor to reaffirm that,” he said after Thursday’s meeting of the Blue Line Corridor Management Committee.
The committee also agreed that the line would continue to connect Target Field in downtown Minneapolis to the Oak Grove Parkway station in Brooklyn Park, near several large companies, including Target Corp. and Takeda Pharmaceuticals.
Dan Soler, Hennepin County’s senior program administrator, said the county wants to maintain the existing alignment as much as possible.
But others have suggested the route in north Minneapolis could be retooled to better serve residents, many of whom do not have cars and depend on public transportation.
“We have an obligation to our constituents to find a route that would work,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “This can be a winning effort if we really push this forward now.”
This fall, planners will reach out to residents, business owners and others along the line to glean feedback.
They will also work with the Federal Transit Administration, which they hope will pay nearly half of the line’s construction costs. As of August, about $129 million in local funds had been spent on the Blue Line extension.