Gov. Tim Walz reiterated his commitment to the proposed Blue Line Extension/Bottineau Light Rail Transit project by making an appearance at the Oct. 8 Corridor Management Committee virtual meeting. The committee is an advisory board that advises the Metropolitan Council on BLRT design and construction issues.
“I just want to start out, both on this virtual table and every chance I will have in public, to express that I believe in the Blue Line Extension,” Walz said. “I know investments in this line will transform communities ... I just want to be absolutely clear that Lt. Gov. Flanagan, myself and our administration believe in that equitable future and our administration is in full support of this.”
The remarks may remediate injured feelings between Walz and city leaders involved in the project, some of whom have expressed frustration with Walz and the Met Council’s efforts to move the light rail project forward.
Talks on the project stalled in 2018, when negotiations began with Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railways to occupy a portion of its railway right-of-way on the route from Minneapolis, through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park. BNSF officials argued that the project would interfere with its ability to serve its freight customers in the corridor.
In August, Hennepin County and Metro Transit officials announced their joint decision to take the proposed light rail line out of the railway corridor, to the dismay of city leaders poised to receive a light rail station. The mayors of Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and Brooklyn Park said they weren’t consulted about the decision, and felt more could be done to negotiate with BNSF officials. A motion by the mayors to restart negotiations with BNSF failed 11-6 at a committee meeting in late August. Those opposed included Met Council and Minneapolis leaders, as well as mayors of Brooklyn Center and Crystal.
Suburban cities take stock
The feelings of discord continued at the Oct. 8 meeting. Robbinsdale City Councilmember George Selman presented a resolution approved by his city that declared negotiation with BNSF a priority moving forward.
Selman said the document submitted to the Met Council speaks for itself. “We added a number one, which we believe still needs to remain number one: continue conversation and increase efforts with BNSF regarding the current preferred alignment.”
Golden Valley City Councilmember Gillian Rosenquist said the city would follow the Blue Line discussion through the end of the year and formally discuss their position on the issue in January.
“We understand that being on the very edge of this route – and seeing that the only connection and the only stops in Golden Valley were ones that were on a rail line-deviating from the rail line is maybe deviating from us altogether,” she said.
Matt Rentsch and Catherine Fleming, chairs of the Business Advisory Council and Community Advisory Council, respectively, also described some disappointment among members in their reports to the committee.
Nichole Buehler, a representative from the Harrison neighborhood of Minneapolis, said residents were particularly upset about the changes that the proposed light rail had already caused, like gentrification and effects on the housing stock. Buehler added that the line would have helped heal “infrastructure injustice” that happened to the area in the 1930s when Olson Memorial Highway “ripped apart the Near North neighborhood,” but instead was causing “unintended negatives” to the community without a guarantee that the line would actually be built.
Still, some at the meeting said they forward to a new route.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he was interested in re-evaluating alignment options to “better serve our constituency, specifically in north [Minneapolis].”
Rentsch said some at the business council members were also optimistic about a new route, especially to underserved areas.
Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde opted not to speak about his frustration with the BNSF negotiations, but to highlight the good the project would do when completed.
“Many of us have worked on this project for many years, and I think sometimes we forget the ‘why’ part, we’re so focused on the ‘what’ and the ‘where,’” Lunde said. “Make no doubt about it: Brooklyn Park and all the communities on this line have not wavered on this one bit. We will roll up our sleeves, we will work hard, and we will move this line forward because we know who is going to benefit from this.”
At the meeting, the committee members also reviewed priorities for alignment, strategies for engagement and the structure of advisory committees. There was little discussion among members, aside from some concern that the engagement process leaned too heavily into online engagement, which may not adequately garner feedback from some communities.