Blue Line LRT committee considers adding members

Without a finalized route design for the Bottineau Blue Line Extension light rail project, the Corridor Management Committee is grappling with questions of its membership composition. Pictured is the potential revised route design.

Without a finalized route for the Bottineau Blue Line Extension light-rail project, the Corridor Management Committee is grappling with questions of its membership composition.

At its April 8 meeting, the committee considered bringing the cities of Maple Grove, New Hope and Osseo on as voting members. However, the committee decided to hold off on any decisions until a formal recommendation could be assembled by the project office.

In early discussions related to a new route. the majority of the rail line is expected to follow Bottineau Boulevard through Robbinsdale and Crystal before heading north through Brooklyn Park on West Broadway Avenue, terminating near the Target North campus.

“The line comes very close to New Hope and we have the same demographics as Brooklyn Center does, and it just seemed odd that we didn’t get a vote and we were never asked to join the CMC in the beginning,” said New Hope Mayor Kathi Hemken. “Apparently we didn’t make the request to do that, so I just want things to be equal and fair.”

The Corridor Management Committee is an advisory committee that provides input to the chair of the Metropolitan Council on issues related to the Blue Line project.

The committee is mandated to exist in state law. While Dan Soler, senior project administrator for Hennepin County, did not reference the exact makeup of the committee as defined by state law, he said the committee is required to have a minimum membership of cities that have light-rail stations or light-rail track directly within their city limits.

“In general, the previous CMCs that were part of previous projects had member communities, cities, municipalities, member communities that the line was part of,” Soler said. “It’s also a committee that’s established in statute based on furthering an alignment, an alignment of an LRT project, because it says it somewhere in the statute, it defines communities who have station areas within the alignment.”

However, the exact makeup of the committee beyond the legal minimum is at the discretion of the membership.

Currently, the committee has 19 voting members and 4 non-voting members. Voting member cities include Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center. Other non-municipal voting members include the Blue line Coalition, the Metropolitan Airports Commission, Hennepin County, the Metropolitan Council, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, and the Blue Line community and business advisory committees.

Non-voting members include Maple Grove, New Hope, Osseo and Metro Transit. These four entities and the airports commission were added to the committee membership Feb. 11. Brooklyn Center requested to be added to the committee early in the planning process, and has maintained a voting seat ever since, Soler said.

“The background escapes me a little bit, but at one point, early on in the formation, in the early part of the formation of the Corridor Management Committee after 2015 for Blue Line extension, a request was made and a decision was agreed to bring in and have Brooklyn Center be part of the Corridor Management Committee as a member,” Soler said.

Until August 2020, the rail line had stations planned for Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Crystal, Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Park, with the majority of the route running in the Burlington Norther Santa Fe Railway right-of-way on a north-south route out of downtown Minneapolis and terminating near the Target North Campus in Brooklyn Park.

That route was abandoned, however, after BNSF’s continued refusal to negotiate with the project office on right-of-way usage. The preliminary revised route proposal was released in March, showing the line no longer running through Golden Valley.

Who should sit at the table?

The overall makeup of the Corridor Management Committee has brought about questions of fairness and representation among committee members.

“We’ve got voting members that may or may not have parts of the alignment in their city, we have non-voting members that do not have (LRT in their city), so it’s kind of a hodge-podge, so there’s any number of different ways we could do this,” Soler said.

“We could make some changes now. We could also wait until such time that we actually have an alignment chosen. … Ultimately, it becomes the recommendation of both the chair and the committee on how they want to move forward.”

Osseo City Councilmember Alicia Vickerman and Maple Grove Transit Administrator Mike Opatz said their cites would like to have a spot at the table.

“This being a regional project, we all have interest in some way,” Vickerman said. “I know for Osseo we kind of want to minimize our boundary in being able to get to this.”

The Maple Grove shopping center is one of the top-five destinations in all of the Twin Cities, according to Opatz, and the city has experienced housing and job growth that is relevant to the line’s ridership.

“We are certainly within the project’s influence,” he said.

Crystal Mayor Jim Adams said that new cities ought to be allowed onto the committee while the new route is being identified, but the membership could be reconsidered in the light of the state legislation once a new route has been selected.

The state legislation “(illustrates) pretty directly as to what that looks like. However, in this situation, we don’t have a defined line. It’s very difficult to vote someone on the island, vote someone off the island at this point,” Adams said.

Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris and Robbinsdale Mayor Bill Blonigan spoke in favor of bringing New Hope aboard as voting members. “We continue to say over and over again this is a project of regional significance and we know for fact based on research that regional projects like this don’t just stop at a boundary,” Harris said.

“I want Brooklyn Center to have input, I want New Hope to have input,” Blonigan said.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Lunde, formally the mayor of Brooklyn Park, said the group would be stronger with more people involved. New Hope’s residents want to feel engaged in the project, he said.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott pushed back slightly on comparisons between New Hope and Brooklyn Center. Brooklyn Center not only has one of the regions busiest transit hubs, but also the most diverse population in the state, Elliott said.

“Brooklyn Center plays a significant role already in transit,” he said. “We just have some 60-plus percent BIPOC people in our community here that are really heavily transit-dependent.”

While Elliott said he supported bringing New Hope onto the committee, the body also ought to consider its representation through an equity and diversity lens, he said.

“We don’t have a lot of BIPOC leadership at this table representing our community,” said Denise Butler, of the Blue Line Coalition. “As I’m open to having more voices at the table, I’m also being cautious of the leadership that is coming to the table and how diverse that leadership is in their representation.”

Met Council Member Reva Chamblis, a Brooklyn Park resident, questioned the precedent that the body was setting by adding members without laying out a more specific rationale for doing so.

While Lunde originally motioned to add Maple Grove, New Hope and Osseo to the committee as voting members until the new route is determined, he withdrew his motion to allow project office staff to draft a more detailed and specific motion for the committee to consider at a future meeting.

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