Feds: Met Council can begin designing METRO Blue Line Extension

Date: Friday, August 22, 2014

Contact: Meredith Vadis, 651-200-8173

The Metropolitan Council today received federal approval to begin designing the METRO Blue Line Extension northwest of Minneapolis, the region’s fourth light rail transit project. Approval to enter Project Development to begin preliminary engineering is the first of several approvals required by the federal government.  Future approvals needed include approval to enter Final Engineering (anticipated late 2016) and approval of the Full Funding Grant Agreement (anticipated in 2018).

The Federal Transit Administration granted the project, previously known as the Bottineau LRT Project, entry into its New Starts program. Prior to federal approval the project alignment, known as the locally preferred alternative, was approved by all cities along the line, as well as Hennepin County. Entry into the New Starts Program makes the Metropolitan Council the primary local project sponsor and allows it to advance the engineering work.

“The Blue Line Extension and the future Green Line Extension (Southwest LRT) will help Minneapolis residents and those from northwest and southwest communities get to work and school, delivering on our promise of equity,” Metropolitan Council Chair Sue Haigh said. “Completion of these lines is the key to building a fully-developed multi-modal system to serve the people of this region.”

As currently planned, the 13-mile line with up to 11 new stations and Target Field Station would extend through north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale and Crystal to Brooklyn Park. Planners expect the primarily at-grade double-tracked line will have 27,000 average weekday riders by 2030. The line would begin revenue service in 2021. 

It will connect activity centers, including the Target North corporate campus, North Hennepin Community College, downtown Robbinsdale, Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute and downtown Minneapolis, as well as provide a one-seat ride on the existing Blue Line to the VA Medical Center, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and Mall of America.

The Blue Line Extension will connect Minneapolis and the northwest communities with the region’s system of transitways. They include existing LRT on the METRO Blue and Green lines, future LRT on the METRO Green Line Extension, bus rapid transit on the METRO Red Line, the Northstar commuter rail line and local and express bus routes.

Helps reverse commutes, addresses growing transit needs, serves diverse groups of people of all ages

The line will improve reverse commutes for Minneapolis riders and transit options for residents from northwest communities. The Blue Line Extension also will help meet the Metropolitan Council’s equity goals by building on other transit investments in north Minneapolis and will help connect racially and ethnically diverse residents throughout the corridor to job concentrations across the region. 

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.

“Without major transit investments, it will be difficult to effectively meet the transportation needs of people and businesses in the corridor, mitigate highway traffic congestion and achieve the region’s goal of doubling transit ridership by 2030,” Haigh said.

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% during the next 20 years, providing fast and reliable transit like the Blue Line Extension is important to help these seniors age in place.

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. 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 Ethiopians, Kenyans, Liberians, Nigerians, and Somalis.

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

Fifty percent of the project’s $997 million budget would come from the FTA, 30 percent from the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), 10 percent from Hennepin County and 10 percent from the state. 

State funding for the Blue Line Extension will follow fulfillment of the state’s share for Southwest LRT. 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 during the 2015 session. 

“Dedicated funding for transit will replace the state’s ten percent share and send a clear signal to our federal partners that this region is committed to making both the METRO Green and Blue line extensions a reality in the very near future,” said Chair Haigh. “The projected growth of this region over the next thirty years requires a more robust 21st century transit system, of which the Green and Blue line extensions are a major component. The only way to build out that system is with a dedicated funding source in place.” 

Dates back quarter of a century

Studies of the Bottineau Transitway date back to the late 1980s.

The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority has been the lead local agency since 2007. 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.

Follows existing rail corridor, Highway 55

From north to south, the route:

• Starts in Brooklyn Park just north of Highway 610 near the Target North Campus

• Follows West Broadway Avenue

• Crosses Bottineau Boulevard at 73rd Avenue to parallel the BNSF railroad corridor

• Continues along the railroad corridor adjacent the freight rail tracks through Crystal, Robbinsdale and Golden Valley

• Turns at Highway 55 and follows the highway to Target Field Station

Watch the Bottineau simulation video for more detailed illustration of the route: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y63z74v2dbA&feature=youtu.be

Planners are studying both Golden Valley Road and Plymouth Avenue/Theodore Wirth Regional Park stations even though only one may be viable in terms of passenger boardings.

Three park-and-rides are currently planned. They would be at 93rd Avenue Station in Brooklyn Park, 63rd Avenue Station in Brooklyn Park, which would be expanded from the existing park-and-ride, and Robbinsdale.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement identified two potential sites in Brooklyn Park for the operations and maintenance facility. They are at the 93rd Avenue park-and-ride location and the northwest quadrant of the intersection of Winnetka Avenue and 101st Avenue. The Met Council must choose one location during project development with input from the public and technical staff from the county and cities on the line.

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