Bottineau light rail planning moves forward

Committee recommends Golden Valley and Brooklyn Park route

BY JONATHAN YOUNG

jonathan.young@ecm-inc.com

A key decision-making body has recommended the Bottineau Transitway run through Golden Valley and end in Brooklyn Park.

The recommendation may not sit well with the cities of Golden Valley or Maple Grove, but the county hopes for their support to make the project more competitive in its bid for federal funding.

The Bottineau Transitway is a proposed light rail line that would begin downtown Minneapolis and extend through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park. Until recently bus rapid transit was considered an option, but it has been dropped from the environmental review. About half of the estimated $1 billion cost for the project is expected to come from the Federal Transit Administration.

Four possible routes are being studied to create an Environmental Impact Statement, which the transit administration requires before the project can move forward.

The middle of the proposed line would run along the BNSF rail corridor next to Highway 81. At the north end, one option would end in Maple Grove near the Shoppes at Arbor Lakes, and another would terminate at Target’s north campus in Brooklyn Park. In the south the line could run through Golden Valley to Highway 55 or continue through Robbinsdale to Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis.

The Policy Advisory Committee, a group of about 30 local leaders and stakeholders, recommended the Golden Valley-to-Brooklyn Park route May 30.

"It’s a big step," said Hennepin County District 1 Commissioner Mike Opat. "It allows the county rail authority to consider it. It also sets in motion a process by which the cities will directly weigh in."

Cities along the route are now being asked to pass resolutions supporting the locally preferred alternative in order to make the application competitive at the federal level.

Soon the Hennepin County Board, acting as the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, will adopt a locally preferred alternative and forward its recommendation to the Metropolitan Council.

The Met Council’s final adoption of a locally preferred alternative is considered a key step in competing for federal funds.

Faith Cable Kumon, of the law firm Smith Partners, has been working with the advisory committee. She said the May 30 vote approving the recommendation was not unanimous, but it was convincing. There were only two "no" votes and three abstentions.

Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeffrey Lunde was at the committee meeting. He later said that from Brooklyn Park’s perspective the decision was good news, and he thanked those in the community who spoke in favor of the Brooklyn Park alternative.

Maple Grove City Administrator Al Madsen, on the other hand, said his city was "disappointed" in the outcome. He said that was compounded by the fact that studies predicted the Maple Grove route would be more efficient and have more riders.

"Sometimes you win, and sometimes we lose, and unfortunately we lost," he said. "But the route is still going to have a ripple effect into neighboring communities."

Kumon said one reason the advisory committee favored the Brooklyn Park alignment seemed to be that it would serve existing development instead of serving a lot of future development, as it would in Maple Grove.

Opat said the Brooklyn Park route makes more sense because Target’s north campus is in Brooklyn Park and because the line will go past North Hennepin Community College, as well as the site of a new library planned in Brooklyn Park.

In the south, he said, the choice gets more difficult. He has concluded the Golden Valley route is better because the line would be cheaper, would run faster and would cause less disruption to neighborhoods.

Minneapolis Council President Barbara Johnson agrees with Opat’s assessment.

"I just think the interruption of the neighborhood was so dramatic if it came through north Minneapolis that it just wasn’t worth the tradeoff of having a couple stops," she said. "… What we need to do is have good connections to that light rail and also to have better bus connections to downtown."

Johnson said the feedback from the community of north Minneapolis was almost evenly split in favor of and against the Penn Avenue route.

The city of Robbinsdale recently passed a resolution supporting the Golden Valley alternative.

But Golden Valley doesn’t seem so sure. In a letter earlier this year, the Golden Valley City Council expressed serious concerns about this route, which would go past nature areas and parkland.

The council was scheduled to discuss the route June 12.

"It’s kind of a Catch-22," Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris said. "… We need to give them some direction, but we don’t have all the information."

That’s because the draft of the Environmental Impact Statement isn’t expected until the end of the year. Harris said he hopes the county will again ask for municipal input once the environmental assessment is complete.

According to Kumon, that isn’t likely.

"The hope and intent is that everyone is OK with this locally preferred alternative and willing to pass a resolution saying that," she said. "Generally more consensus is better."

Harris said the situation puts a lot of pressure on Golden Valley.

"If every other community is lining up and saying that it’s better to go through Golden Valley, there’s a lot of pressure to go along with that," he said. "… We’re being told it’s possible that the application (for federal funding) may not even be submitted" if there isn’t enough local support, he said.

The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority is scheduled to vote on a locally preferred alternative June 26.

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