Bottineau Transitway OK’d by county Regional Rail Authority

BY KATY ZILLMER

katy.zillmer@ecm-inc.com

A majority of the entities involved with the proposed Bottineau Transitway light rail line have now approved the Locally Preferred Alternative from downtown Minneapolis through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park.

The Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority voted 5-1 June 26 to approve the LPA. The authority consists of the six elected county board commissioners. District 2’s post is currently vacant due to Commissioner Mark Stenglein’s resignation at the end of May. Commissioner Jeff Johnson cast the lone dissenting vote against the LPA.

However a study of the proposed alignment will continue with the majority approval by the Regional Rail Authority, said Joseph Gladke, Hennepin County’s engineering and transit planning manager.

The cities of Robbinsdale, Crystal, Brooklyn Park and Minneapolis also support the LPA, but Golden Valley’s City Council voted 3-2 against a resolution in support of the plan on June 19.

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

The Hennepin County Board and Metropolitan Council must also approve the LPA and then the Bottieneau Transitway could be eligible for federal funding for preliminary engineering.

The Metropolitan Council will adopt the final LPA for review from the Federal Transit Administration, which is expected to fund about half of the estimated $1 billion cost for the project.

Four possible routes in the LPA 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.

In downtown Minneapolis, the proposed light rail line could connect with The Interchange, which is a planned urban park and transit station due for completion in 2014.

Golden Valley’s main concerns with the LPA, cited at a meeting in February, are the light rail’s alignment along railroad tracks in a wetland area that would cut into Theodore Wirth Park and run parallel to St. Margaret Mary Church.

Those concerns were reiterated at the June 19 city council meeting.

Eventually, Gladke said, all of the cities included in the LPA will have to approve the plan.

County staff and commissioners will continue to work with Golden Valley to address the city’s concerns.

"We’re in a bit of uncharted territory right here with the city of Golden Valley," Gladke said. "I still think there is some misunderstandings involved there with what the project is and where the project is at. We have some work to do there with them still to clarify where exactly the project runs," he said.

The alternative to the proposed light rail route along the railroad tracks in Golden Valley would be to Penn Avenue in north Minneapolis.

District 1 Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat said a light rail line in that neighborhood is not feasible without closing access to certain streets or the county acquiring property and having to demolish buildings.

"The problem with that is it ends up dividing it no matter how you run it," Opat said. "There is no easy way to get through a densely populated residential neighborhood."

He said there is still work to do with Golden Valley.

"Certainly these decisions are tough and those of you that have been involved in rail project know that they’re not easy and that rarely does a simple solution make itself available. We haven’t answered all the questions about the LPA as it gets through Golden Valley and some of the Minneapolis Park Board managed land, but I think we can get there," Opat said.

Opat made the motion to support the LPA, followed by a second from Commissioner Jan Callison.

"I wrestled with it a little bit because almost instinctively it seems to me that if you look well into the future you would talk about a route that incorporates North Minneapolis more than this does," Callison said. "It was helpful to go to (the) Policy Advisory Committee meeting to hear people closer to this than I am. I am trusting their judgment as well as the comments I’ve received," she said. "And, there will be additional analysis."

The county Regional Rail Authority chair Peter McLaughlin said the Bottineau Transitway project is, "a long road. And we’re only part way down it. We still have ample opportunity in my view to address the concerns that have been raised in Golden Valley."

- Community editors Jonathan Young and Sue Webber contributed to this report.

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