Met Council, Hennepin County will find alternative route for Blue Line Extension without BNSF

Aug. 4, 2020
The light-rail project’s stakeholders expressed disappointment in shelving the plans to build on BNSF right-of-way, but are committed to finding a way forward to deliver the project.

Any future northwest extension of the METRO Blue Line to the planned final passenger station at Oak Grove Parkway in Minneapolis, Minn., will not occur along BNSF Railway right-of-way. Project stakeholders made the decision to explore alternatives for the project following years of stalled negotiations with the Class 1 railroad over use of its property.  

Hennepin County and Metropolitan Council staff called the decision frustrating and disappointing, but citing what they labeled BNSF’s unwillingness to find solutions together, explained the decision was needed “to advance this critical project.”

BNSF had expressed safety and operational concerns with the plan to construct an approximate eight-mile portion of the 13-mile, $1.5-billion light-rail project beside the freight line in the Bottineau Corridor.

"This project is a critical element in meeting our transportation needs for a growing region,” said Metropolitan Chair Charlie Zelle. “Our commitment to the Blue Line Extension has not changed and I look forward to working with project partners and community stakeholders as we chart our new pathway forward."

The METRO Blue Line Extension was to serve transit-dependent households along the Minneapolis area’s most diverse neighborhoods.

In a joint statement Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council said, “People in these communities continue to be harmed by historic patterns of systemic racism that are compounded by a lack of transit and transportation infrastructure. Now, in the face of multiple crises disproportionately impacting communities of color, transformational investment is more urgent than ever.”

The project stakeholders also cited the employment, education, health and economic opportunities associated with the project as reasons why it should move forward.

“For more than a decade, Hennepin County has led planning for the Bottineau LRT line in close partnership with agency and community partners at all levels,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, District 1. “The cities have been particularly strong partners and done amazing work to prepare for this transformative project. Local elected leaders have been more than patient as we tried to complete a deal with the railroad, who once conducted themselves as partners in this endeavor. BNSF’s new obstinance cannot deter our work any longer. The time to forge ahead is now. These cities and the region, as a whole, need this LRT project.”

“This light-rail line is more than just a project to advance — it is a commitment to the residents and communities along the corridor for robust engagement and investment for years and decades to come. The Blue Line Extension will further our region’s transit vision, and it will connect students to schools, workers to jobs and patients to health care,” said Hennepin Commissioner Irene Fernando, District 2.

The Metropolitan Council will convene a meeting of the Corridor Management Committee on Aug. 13, where project partners will discuss next steps for the project.

About the Author

Mischa Wanek-Libman | Group Editorial Director

Mischa Wanek-Libman serves as editor in chief of Mass Transit magazine and group editorial director of the Infrastructure and Aviation Group at Endeavor Business Media. She is responsible for developing and maintaining the editorial direction of the group and is based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Wanek-Libman has spent more than 20 years covering transportation issues including construction projects and engineering challenges for various commuter railroads and transit agencies. She has been recognized for editorial excellence through her individual work, as well as for collaborative content. 

She is an active member of the American Public Transportation Association's Marketing and Communications Committee and serves as a Board Observer on the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association (NRC) Board of Directors.  

She is a graduate of Drake University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with a major in magazine journalism and a minor in business management.

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