Supporters of the Bottineau Blue Line are calling for “meaningful action” from the governor and others to push the stalled $1.5 billion light-rail project forward.
But for now, the proposed extension of the existing Blue Line linking downtown Minneapolis to the northwestern suburbs appears stalled.
“Our patience is gone,” wrote suburban mayors and community representatives along Bottineau’s route in a July 23 letter to Gov. Tim Walz, federal, state and county officials, as well as the chairman of the Metropolitan Council. “We need your leadership to stand up for our communities.”
The governor received the letter and “would welcome a meeting” with its authors, Walz’s spokesman Teddy Tschann said Wednesday.
The Bottineau project has languished for about a year, and questions have surfaced whether a different route or transit type, such as buses, should be considered — moves that would delay the line and likely increase its price tag.
About $129 million from local and state coffers has already been spent planning the project, which has been in the works for more than three decades.
The letter’s authors said the project has a heightened sense of urgency after the killing of George Floyd, which has prompted new conversations about racial equity in the Twin Cities.
They are adamant that the Bottineau line remain as planned: light-rail trains serving north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park, some of the most impoverished and transit-dependent communities in the Twin Cities.
Any change “without community conversation is an affront to our residents,” they wrote, noting “this is an example of traditional power structures ignoring communities of color and is systemic racism in action.” There has been no formal response to the letter.
The project’s delay is tied to stalled negotiations with BNSF Railway. About 8 miles of the line’s 13-mile route would be shared with the freight giant, which is not interested in such an arrangement.
BNSF reiterated its longstanding stance Wednesday. “We are a freight railroad that moves the goods that we all use every day; we provide a vital service, particularly in these unprecedented times. The proposed Blue Line light rail project does not meet our high standards,” the railway said.
But Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris, who signed the letter, said there’s been “no transparent and significant effort to push back” on BNSF.
Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde, another signatory, said the lack of access to discussion about the Bottineau’s fate “is the most troubling aspect of all this. Why are we not in the room?”
The chairman of the Met Council, Charlie Zelle, said he understands the frustration regarding BNSF’s stand. The council vows to invest “in a transitway that connects people to local and regional opportunities,” he said in a statement.
Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who represents several cities along the Bottineau corridor, said there’s “seemingly no one who can dislodge the railroad from its unreasonable position.” One resolution might involve slightly altering Bottineau’s alignment to eliminate BNSF from the picture, he said.
But Blue Line Coalition organizer Ricardo Perez said years of meticulous planning involving communities along the line would be for naught if the route is changed.
“All that work would go to waste,” he said.