By MIKE OPAT
In recent weeks you may have read some updates in the news about the Bottineau Light Rail project. Along with our partners at the Metropolitan Council and cities along the line, I am pleased that the engineering phase of the project is approaching 90% completion. That being said, there are still a few challenges that we must overcome to complete the project and begin construction of a line that has the overwhelming support of local transit advocates and elected officials.
As the project was developed, all cities along the line spent years deciding on a route and selecting a mode. At the July 6 Corridor Management Committee meeting, I was pleased to see another unified showing of grassroots support coupled with strong political will from the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County and municipal leaders. Together, we are committed to getting this project done.
The Bottineau Light Rail line will run through a part of our county where there is an economic need, a strong demand for transit service and a historic opportunity for redevelopment. Our city partners have been working diligently as the project has been developed to shape zoning codes that have primed the pump for renewed investment in commercial and residential projects along the corridor.
During my tenure at Hennepin County, every light rail project we have worked on has been faced with its share of challenging moments. Hiawatha required a massive and technically challenging tunnel to be built under the airport, the Green Line to St. Paul faced lawsuits by the University of Minnesota and Minnesota Public Radio, and Southwest Light Rail had a long process to select a route including the addition of tunnels to accommodate neighboring residents in Minneapolis.
Recent news about Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s resistance to operating freight and passenger service concurrently on a little-used spur track is that challenging moment for the Bottineau project. In the past, BNSF allowed a commuter train to practice in the corridor and took Hennepin County Commissioners on tours to help us learn about the corridor. Local leaders, including myself, are committed to engaging BNSF and working out a deal similar to Northstar commuter rail and SWLRT to allow passenger service to move forward in the Bottineau Corridor. Our resolve is not in question. My colleagues and I will not give up; this project is simply too vital to the future of our northern Hennepin suburbs and to the region overall.
Mike Opat is a District 1 Hennepin County Commissioner, serving the cities of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Crystal, New Hope, Osseo and Robbinsdale.