Local Mayors Push for Action at Metro Blue Line Extension Meeting
Supporters of the long-established route of the proposed Bottineau Light Rail Line were dealt a major blow Thursday afternoon.
The Corridor Management Committee, which is a group of mayors, state and county officials and other stakeholders along the proposed light rail route, voted down a proposal to put more pressure on BNSF Railway and get them to sign off on a plan that would let light rail trains ride alongside eight miles of freight trains.
Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde was looking for the same help from top government officials on the Bottineau Line that the Southwest Line received.
“Frankly, we could have done better,” said Lunde. “As far as a state, as far as marshaling our forces, organizing and doing what we saw on Southwest, where they went to bat. They actually brought the National Transportation Board in. They actually sued to get things going. They actually shut down a bonding bill in support of Southwest. We have not seen that.”
Lunde was one of the local mayors to take part in Thursday’s virtual meeting of the Corridor Management Committee. It’s the first time the group has met in more than a year, which Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando pointed out goes against the committee’s charter.
The meeting comes nearly two weeks after Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council announced they were going to stop negotiations with BNSF and abandon the long-established route of the Blue Line.
Some committee members, like Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris, argued that they haven’t exhausted all efforts to persuade BNSF to sign off on the plan.
“I’m just wondering what kind of arm-twisting measures were used by the Met Council and by the governor? And not just phone calls, but have there been legislative efforts? Have there been regulatory efforts?” asked Harris.
A Motion to Keep Pushing BNSF
Harris made a motion to direct the Met Council and Hennepin County to actively work in all levels of government to prioritize exhausting all options with BNSF while exploring other alignment light rail options and including all stakeholders in the decision-making process. Robbinsdale City Council member George Selman seconded the vote.
But the motion failed to get the support it needed, with only six members voting for it: Harris, Selman, Lunde, Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, and two members of the Blue Line Coalition, Ricardo Perez and Denise Butler.
Local mayors, Mike Elliott of Brooklyn Center and Jim Adams of Crystal, joined others voting against it. Reasons mentioned included a lack of specification on what “exhausting all options” meant and a desire to stop stalling the project.
The meeting wrapped up with Senator Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), who did not have a vote in the matter, saying how disappointed she was in the action.
“We are going to remember this decision,” said Sen. Rest. “And continue fighting to make sure LRT is brought to the working people’s corridor. And that is who we are.”
Following the meeting, Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris issues this statement:
We are tremendously disappointed in the Met Council and CMC decision to not more vigorously pressure BNSF to co-locate light rail with its underused freight rail corridor. Community members, nonprofit leaders and officials from Brooklyn Park to Minneapolis’ North side spent countless hours in difficult conversations to come to agreement on this alignment. 90% of engineering was completed with BNSF’s cooperation. We believe that continuing to push for it AND work on other transit projects in the NW metro is what is best for our communities.