Blue Line Extension connecting northwest suburbs to over 570,000 jobs in existing light rail transit corridors moves ahead

Posted In: Communities, Planning, Transportation
Date: 9/29/2016
 

Metropolitan Council approves Blue Line Extension’s environmental review allowing the project to proceed

 

Project will connect rapidly diversifying communities with jobs across the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area.
 
Region’s fourth light rail line headed for engineering.

 
A major expansion of access to jobs and opportunities for Minnesotans is one step closer to reality, following the completion of all environmental reviews for the Blue Line Extension LRT Project and approval by the Metropolitan Council of the project’s final scope and budget
 
The Blue Line Extension – commonly referred to as Bottineau LRT – will connect the northwest suburbs through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park to Target Field Station in downtown Minneapolis. From there, travelers will have easy access to over 570,000 jobs in the existing light rail corridor communities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Bloomington.

“The northwest suburbs are some of the fastest growing and most rapidly diversifying communities in our state,” said Metropolitan Chair Adam Duininck. “The Blue Line Extension means better jobs and better access to jobs for thousands of residents throughout the region. Whether it’s for those residents along the line who don’t own a vehicle and will be able to take a one-seat ride to the Mall of America or the MSP Airport, or for reverse commuters living in Minneapolis or Saint Paul, who will be able to access jobs in the northwest suburbs, this project helps advance our region’s economy.”

The Blue Line Extension will provide travelers additional transportation choices and greater access to opportunities across the region. At the Mall of America, passengers can transfer to the METRO Red Line Bus Rapid Transit to Apple Valley. Passengers also will be able to transfer to the existing METRO Green Line to access the University of Minnesota, destinations along University Avenue or downtown St. Paul, as well as to the job-dense Southwest Corridor on the planned Green Line Extension.

The communities along the new line are increasingly people of color and those who are transit-dependent. 
  • Communities served by line expected to grow by 110,000 people by 2040.
  • 14 percent of households along the line do not own a vehicle
  • In parts of North Minneapolis, more than half of households do not own a vehicle
  • Roughly half of the residents along the line are people of color

Metropolitan Council Approves Environmental Review

The Metropolitan Council voted Wednesday that the Blue Line Extension’s Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is adequate under Minnesota rules. On Sept. 19, the Federal Transit Administration issued a Record of Decision on the Final EIS, signaling the environmental review is complete from a federal standpoint as well. These two steps are the final part of the environmental review process as laid out in statute and means the project is now primed for a year of engineering work to advance the designs.

The Council also set the project’s final scope and budget at $1.536 billion, following a recommendation from the line’s Corridor Management Committee, made up of local elected officials from the communities along the line. Together, these steps allow project staff to now seek FTA permission to enter the engineering phase to complete the designs, which are at a 30 percent level of detail. 
 

Funding needs to be secured in 2017

With the project budget now set at $1.536 billion, the Council will be seeking the state’s share of the project in the 2017 legislative session. Project planners need to secure all local funding before they can submit the request to the FTA for full federal funding in mid-2017. 

The federal government is expected to pay nearly half of the project’s cost, with the state share coming in at $149.6 million, or 10 percent of the total cost. See below for a pie chart breakdown of project funding.

The Council will be seeking a metro-area sales tax for transit, which would not only provide the necessary funding for Blue Line construction, but also the operations for the line and other transit services into the future. 
 

Next steps in process

In July, the FTA published the Final EIS. The document identified potential impacts, determined whether they could be avoided, minimized or mitigated, and identified mitigation measures for impacts that cannot be avoided or mitigated. The document also outlined the Met Council’s commitments to address those impacts throughout construction and operation of the line. More information about the environmental review process, including the Final EIS and Record of Decision, is available at www.BlueLineExt.org.

The project has a year of engineering work to do. Staff expect to complete 60 percent of the design work in the first quarter of 2017 and finalize designs in late 2017. This includes advancing work on roadway design, the stations, and operations and maintenance facilities.

Heavy construction is set to occur from 2018 to 2020. Under this plan, passenger service would begin in 2021. Nearly 27,000 weekday boardings are anticipated in 2040.
Project cost pie chart; total $1.536 billion, 49% Federal Transit Administration 51% Local Funding

About the project

The planned METRO Blue Line Extension (Bottineau) light rail transit project will operate about 13 miles northwest from downtown Minneapolis through north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park, drawing riders northwest of Brooklyn Park. The proposed alignment will have 11 new stations in addition to Target Field Station where it will continue as the METRO Blue Line, providing one-seat rides to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. It will connect Minneapolis and the region’s northwest communities with existing LRT on the METRO Green Line, future LRT on the METRO Green Line Extension (Southwest LRT), bus rapid transit on the METRO Red Line, the Northstar commuter rail line and local and express bus routes.

The Metropolitan Council will be the grantee of federal funds and is charged with building the line in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Transportation. The Blue Line Extension Corridor Management Committee, which includes local officials from Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Minneapolis, provides advice and oversight. Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA), and the state of Minnesota.

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