This article was written by Connor Cummiskey
An expansion to the light rail system that would connect Target Field to Brooklyn Park is moving onward, as the Metropolitan Council hears feedback from communities along the proposed route.
The METRO Blue Line Extension Light Rail Transit project was initially proposed to run along eight miles of BNSF railroad freight lines, however, the council and Hennepin County issued a joint statement in 2020 to move forward without using that corridor, according to the draft report.
In December, 2021 the council released a draft route modification report which detailed some of the work being done to connect with impacted communities and layout the options for the route.
The Metropolitan Council is considering running the extension along Bottineau Boulevard, starting near North Memorial Hospital. There are two primary options to link the proposed Bottineau route to Target Field.
The West Broadway route would run north along Lyndale Avenue North to West Broadway, then turn west and follow Broadway to the intersection with Bottineau Boulevard. The Lowry route would run north on 10th Avenue North to Washington Avenue. It would follow Washington Avenue to the intersection with Lowry Avenue North, where it would turn west. The line would then follow Lowry Avenue to Bottineau Boulevard.
Both routes would place a station near North Memorial Hospital, according to the draft report.
During a March 15 informational meeting, council staff updated the community on the proposal and answered some questions posed by attendees. Part of the discussion was highlighting the relative benefits of the Broadway and Lowry routes.
During the presentation, staff discussed how the line would impact access along the proposed routes. The Lowry route would see greater restrictions for cross-street traffic, because many of those intersections do not currently have medians, according to the Director of the Blue Line Extension LRT Project Dan Soler.
“With LRT down the middle, we would have to close the through traffic on a lot of those intersections,” Soler said.
When looking toward future development, the council considered the number and size of undeveloped parcels along the route. They found that while the average size of the parcels are similar in both routes, the West Broadway route has more undeveloped properties and a higher acreage of vacant land, according to the presentation.
After presenting some updates to the draft plan, staff responded to residents’ questions. One question was whether the line could be built either above or below the street level.
Nick Landwer, the Metropolitan Council’s Director of Transit Systems, Design & Engineering, said the line could be elevated or buried, but an at-grade corridor is more accessible in regards to people with disabilities – because elevating the line requires stairs or elevators for users to access.
“Usually those are put in when there’s a geographical barrier,” Landwer said.
The project could include elevated sections along the corridor, such as near North Memorial, where they would have to run the line over the bridges currently under construction, according to Landwer.
He also pointed out that underground tunnels can be roughly 6-10 times more expensive to build than an at-grade line.
“When you’re putting in that tunnel you’re usually opening up a big hole in the ground to build that tunnel and then putting that back into place and it takes a long time,” Landwer said. “So those become very disruptive during construction.”
Public Involvement Manager Sophia Ginis responded to concerns over the management of the project – in light of the Southwest Light Rail audit, passed by the Minnesota Legislature earlier this year – saying this expansion could learn from what the audit finds.
Soler added that this is not the first time the Metropolitan Council has worked on a street-running LRT project.
“We know the things that didn’t work in our experiences with University Avenue, so it won’t be the first time we address this kind of construction, along a street-running LRT, and we’ll use that to our advantage,” Soler said.
Next the council expects a route modification report sometime in the spring to recommend a community-supported route for further evaluation. The environmental review process is anticipated to begin this summer, according to the presentation.
Construction is expected to begin in three-to-four years, with the goal of opening the line in 2028, according to the presentation.
Residents can stay up-to-date, and find maps and recordings of past meetings at bluelineext.org or by following the project on Twitter (@bluelineext) or on Facebook (MetroBlueLineExtension).