Planners rethink Bottineau light rail line in wake of rail dispute

Train arrives in downtown Minneapolis
The light rail arrives at a station in downtown Minneapolis. The Metropolitan Council is laying out a handful of alternatives for the so-called Bottineau Line, after negotiations to run the light rail line on freight train right-of-way failed last year.
Caroline Yang for MPR News 2014

The Metropolitan Council is laying out a handful of alternatives for the so-called Bottineau Line, after negotiations to run the light rail line on freight train right-of-way failed last year.

A map showing the route a light rail would take.
This extract from a Metropolitan Council map shows some of the alternatives being considered to run the Blue Line extension from Target Field to the Near North neighborhood on its way to Brooklyn Park.
Courtesy of the Met Council

The council says the northern part of the line in Brooklyn Park will remain the same, and the middle section of the 13-mile Blue Line Extension could move to Bottineau Boulevard.

But planners are weighing more than a half dozen options for the line in north Minneapolis, most of them including West Broadway, one of the neighborhood’s landmark main streets.

Three alternatives use Lyndale Avenue, Washington Avenue, and an alignment along an Interstate 94 ramp north of downtown Minneapolis to span the distance from the Target Field Station to the area along West Broadway just west of Interstate 94.

“The routes released today are a big step forward for the Blue Line Extension Project,” said Met Council Chair Charles Zelle in a statement released with the options. “The Blue Line Extension is an important element of the region’s transportation system. While these potential routes are a good first step for seeing this project to completion, much work remains.”

Residential stretches of Penn and Oliver avenues studied a decade ago are not among the new options. Another new option goes up Washington Avenue to Lowry Avenue and turns west to West Broadway, to the area beside the North Memorial Health Hospital campus in Robbinsdale.

The reconsideration comes after years of haggling over the initially preferred alternative for the line, running along BNSF tracks beside Bottineau Boulevard. Those talks between the BNSF railroad and planners had followed a rancorous real estate dispute between Hennepin County and the railroad that blocked a rail junction BNSF had been planning to run freight trains into Minneapolis. BNSF ultimately declined the light rail option, forcing planners to look elsewhere, more than a decade into the process.

The breakdown, though, also came after the death of George Floyd in May turned international focus on racial equity in Minnesota. That helped spur new calls for the light rail line to provide better service to the heart of north Minneapolis, among the most diverse neighborhoods in the state. The rail line would previously have run largely beside existing train tracks in Golden Valley and Robbinsdale instead.

The Met Council is planning to hold virtual public input meetings on the options March 25 and 30, and has an online survey available through April 30.

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