County approves Bottineau LRT project development funding

 BY Paul Groessel

Sun POST Newspapers


A county board will spend $18 million to help fund the project development phase of the Bottineau Transitway light rail line, an amount it could earn back from the Federal Transit Administration should the light rail come to fruition.

The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (comprised of county commissioners) approved the expense during a Nov. 5 meeting. That payment will go toward the $46 million project development expense. The phase is expected to take two years to complete, but it’s unclear when it will begin.

Project development includes initial light rail planning that is comprised of an environmental review, cities’ approval, and the start of engineering plans. In December, the Counties Transit Improvement Board will consider paying the remainder of the $46 million project development cost. The FTA could reimburse the county for the expense if the light rail is ultimately constructed under federal regulations in a partnership that resembles the other regional light rail projects, which were led by the Metropolitan Council in conjunction with municipal, county and state governing bodies.

“I think we clearly have some momentum here,” County Board commissioner and rail authority member Mike Opat said, alluding to recent meetings with FTA officials and some lawmakers. “And it’s never easy to vote to spend some money hoping you’ll get it back and you’re project is going to be approved. But we’ve done it before, and we’ve done it with some success. And we’ll do it again with this project.”

Under current plans, the Bottineau Transitway will connect to the existing Blue Line (formerly known as the Hiawatha line) in downtown Minneapolis. It is expected to run through Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park, where it will end near Target Corporations’s north campus.

The FTA wants to see local support for projects like this, said Joe Gladke of the county’s Engineering and Transit Planning division. With state funding for the Southwest light rail transit line ahead of funding for the Bottineau line, Gladke said obtaining state support in two or three years may not be easy.

“That’s a bit of concern for us as we look toward the future,” he said. “Are we going to be able to come up with that local funding when it’s going to be needed?”

A two-year deadline to complete the project development phase begins once it is proposed to the FTA, according to Gladke. He was uncertain of when that proposal will be completed, he said.

If it moves forward, the Bottineau line could open in late 2019. A long line of funding and planning approvals are needed before trains hit the tracks. The project is expected to cost $1 billion. Similar to other light rail projects, planners expect that half of the funds would come from the FTA, 30 percent from the Counties Transit Improvement Board and 10 percent from both Hennepin County and the state.

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Contact Paul Groessel at [email protected]