Blue Line Extension project reaches major milestone

Posted In: Council News, Planning, Transportation
Date: 10/29/2015

Today the METRO Blue Line Extension LRT takes a major step forward, as project staff present a more precise scope and cost estimate for the line to the Corridor Management Committee (CMC). The updated project scope includes necessary infrastructure adjustments, focused on addressing safety concerns, as well as potential traffic and floodplain impacts for the 13-mile line, which promises to connect thousands of residents in the corridor with jobs.

“The Blue Line Extension will build upon transit investments across the region and expand our network to the northwestern communities who have been strong partners,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck. “When this line is up and running, it will increase transit options for people in the northwest metropolitan area and connect people with opportunities at several major employers located on or near the line. I look forward to continuing to work with our project partners and the communities to make this line a reality.”

When completed, the expanded METRO Blue Line will offer a one-seat ride from the Target Northern Campus in Brooklyn Park to the Mall of America in Bloomington, with stops throughout Minneapolis and at the VA and MSP International Airport. With its cross-metro reach, the Blue Line Extension will assist residents from Minneapolis and the northwest communities in getting to work and school. About half of the corridor’s residents are people of color, and the project area communities are some of the region’s most rapidly diversifying areas.

Today’s project updates and cost estimates are based on a 15 percent level of detail, which is a standard engineering practice for estimating and revising the cost of large public works projects. See PDF of route map.

Within the updated scope, project staff now recommend: seven additional bridges, more retaining walls, reconstruction of Highway 55, an additional 11th station (Plymouth Avenue), freight rail requirements, and soil mitigation. These adjustments are based on the results of engineering work and environmental studies over the past year by project staff; project advisory committees made up of community and business representatives; county and city public works; planning and community development staff; and elected officials.

This updated project scope results in an updated cost estimate for the project of $1.488 billion. The updated cost estimate also adds two years of inflation at a 3 percent escalation factor per year, due to the more accurate timeline for construction of the project. The previous cost estimate and scope developed by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority in 2012 was based off very early and limited information available at just 1 percent of engineering work. At this point, none of the project partners have committed funding for construction of the line.

The Metropolitan Council will consider a recommendation from the CMC as it prepares to move forward on the project. The CMC, which includes elected officials and public representatives from the communities along the line, (Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Hennepin County,) could choose to support the revised scope and cost estimate; or to recommend revisions and associated cost adjustments to the Council.

Helps reverse commutes, addresses growing transit needs, serves diverse groups

The line will improve commutes and transit options for riders. It also helps the Metropolitan Council advance its equity goals by connecting racially and ethnically diverse residents throughout the corridor to job concentrations across the region.

Languages spoken by the corridor’s residents include various African languages, Chinese, French, Hmong, Lao, Spanish and Vietnamese. The corridor is also home to many people from Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Somalia.

The Blue Line Extension is needed because traffic congestion is expected to intensify and current transit service in the project area offers a limited number of travel-time competitive alternatives to personal vehicles.

Communities served by the Blue Line Extension are expected to grow by 110,000 people by 2040. Meanwhile, 14 percent of households in the project area do not own a vehicle, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures. In parts of north Minneapolis, more than half of the households lack cars.

In some project area communities, senior citizens make up a larger share of the population than they do in the overall regional population. With senior populations in the region forecast to grow by 120 percent during the next 20 years, providing fast and reliable transit like the Blue Line Extension is important to help these seniors age in place.

How recommendations developed

The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority was the lead local agency from 2007-2014. The railroad authority, in partnership with the Metropolitan Council, local governments and community organizations analyzed several routes and transit modes before selecting LRT and a route that received resolutions of support from all city councils and Hennepin County.

The Federal Transit Administration granted the project, previously known as the Bottineau LRT Project, entry into its New Starts program in 2014. This made the Metropolitan Council the primary local project sponsor and allowed it to advance the engineering work. This work becomes eligible for federal reimbursement only at this stage if the FTA later agrees to pay nearly half of the project’s capital costs.

Metropolitan Council staff reviewed what the Draft Environmental Impact Statement’s $1 billion cost estimate included and advised the Counties Transit Improvement Board, Hennepin County and corridor cities this year on items not included in that early estimate. They then established a process and schedule for updating the cost estimate and shared that with these project partners and the public in summer 2015.

Future project scope updates and cost estimates will be done at the 30 percent, 60 percent and 100 percent phases, and that information will be shared with the Federal Transit Administration, project partners and public.

Splits funding nearly 50-50 between feds and state/local government

Current plans are for 49 percent of the project’s budget to come from the FTA, 31 percent from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), 10 percent from Hennepin County and 10 percent from the state. Counties Transit Improvement Board has committed $27.6 million and Hennepin $17.4 million for Project Development, while the state has provided $1 million for Project Development in 2014. However, none of the three has committed any funding for Engineering or construction.

The Council, along with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, transit advocates and businesses plans to pursue a dedicated funding source for transit at the Legislature in the 2016 session.

Timetable for next steps

  • Nov. 12 - The Corridor Management Committee will be asked to make a recommendation on the cost estimate and the scope.
  • Nov. 23 - The Council’s Transportation Committee will consider the CMC’s recommendation.
  • Dec. 9 – The Council will vote on an updated scope and cost estimate. The Council will also consider initiating the municipal consent process for approval of the preliminary design for the location of tracks, roadways, stations, bridges, the operations and maintenance facilities and support facilities.
  • Mid-December - Staff would release municipal consent plans.
  • Mid-January - The Council, Hennepin County and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority would hold a joint public hearing.
  • February/early March - The five corridor cities and the county would need to act by early March on plans for their jurisdictions.  

Primary Cost Drivers
The primary cost drivers for the revised project cost estimate of $1.488 billion include advanced engineering, new scope requirements and inflation. “New scope requirements” include necessary adjustments to address safety, traffic, floodplain impacts and project partner requirements.  “Advanced engineering” reflects adjustments made due to environmental investigations, engineering studies and 15 percent level of design.  The revised cost estimate also adds two years of “Inflation” at a 3 percent escalation factor per year, due to the updated timeline for construction.
Pie chart showing primary cost drivers for new estimates

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 10 or 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 Hennepin County, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis and the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board as well as community representatives, provides advice and oversight. Funding is provided by the Federal Transit Administration, Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), state of Minnesota and Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA).

Posted In: Council News, Planning, Transportation

Tags: LRT, Blue Line Extension

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