By Dave Van Hattum, Senior Policy Advocate
Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) strongly supports every effort to build with all deliberate speed a 21st-century regional transit system in the Twin Cities. We were encouraged recently to see that the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority selected a locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the proposed Bottineau light rail transit (LRT) line in the northwest metro.
Like the Green Line (combining the Central Corridor and Southwest LRT), Bottineau LRT would merge seamlessly with Hiawatha LRT to create the Blue Line with trains running from the Mall of America to Brooklyn Park. Recent new estimates of ridership for the Bottineau Corridor (26,000 to 27,000 riders per day in 2030) make it a promising corridor for eventually securing matching federal funding for construction, and for efficiently serving current and new transit riders in the Northwest metro.
The Bottineau Corridor faces a number of challenges: 1) getting support from the Golden Valley City Council for further study of multiple alignments, including one through their city, 2) crafting a viable plan to insure substantially improved transit service in North Minneapolis, and 3) securing additional transit funding. All of these can and should be addressed by forging political consensus among Hennepin County, the Metropolitan Council, and the City of Minneapolis and other cities along the line.
Golden Valley Support for Further Study Is Critical
On June 19th, the Golden Valley City Council voted (3-2) to withhold support for the proposed route of the Bottineau LRT line through Golden Valley and adjacent communities. While other cities (Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park) support this alignment, without majority support of the Golden Valley City Council the ability of the project to move into the Preliminary Engineering phase will be stalled.
City Council members raised concerns that the proposed route lies along the eastern edge of Wirth Park. Several Council members also questioned the best location for station(s) if a line is built in Golden Valley. These concerns need to be addressed and will be as part of the evaluation going forward in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
We note, however, that the light rail trains, under the proposed alignment, would travel in an existing railroad right-of-way that is currently used, albeit sparingly, by freight trains. This rail alignment would have much less impact on the park than the busy Highway 55 which cuts Wirth Park in half. LRT trains are considerably quieter than freight trains and emit much less noise and air pollution than traffic on highways (I-394 and TH55) adjacent to Wirth Park.
LRT lines in San Diego, St. Louis, and Philadelphia, as well as the Hiawatha LRT line along Minnehaha Park, all border popular parks. While light rail trains adjacent to Wirth Park could provide minor detriment to some park goers, new transit service will substantially improve access to the park for everyone whether or not they drive, and more broadly will improve quality of life in our metro region.
Increased Transit Service in North Minneapolis
While the community is split on support for the Penn Avenue LRT alignment through North Minneapolis, there is no doubt that greater transit service is urgently needed to get people where they need to go and to spur economic opportunity. Further environmental analysis will address both the D1 (Golden Valley) and D2 (North Minneapolis) alignments as well as the A (Maple Grove) and B (Brooklyn Park) alignments. As the Bottineau Corridor continues to be planned, it is imperative that the pros and cons, and possible mitigation measures, receive more detailed study. In the discussion of the LPA decision, many policymakers cited a streetcar or improved bus service as a less intrusive option than LRT for improved transit in North Minneapolis.
Credit: Hennepin County
Today’s promise from Hennepin County, the City of Minneapolis, and Metro Transit to study a streetcar (on Broadway) and rapid bus (on Fremont and Emerson) in North Minneapolis does not bring enough certainty for those residents. Instead, a funding plan for increased transit service in North Minneapolis should be part of the final determination of the route for Bottineau LRT—whether it be streetcars, a new rapid bus line (such as along Broadway Avenue), increased frequency and extended hours or extended coverage of current bus service, or an LRT alignment.
Increased Transit Funding
Funding challenges for the Bottineau Corridor LRT line are a microcosm of larger regional transit funding issues. For the Southwest LRT line, and a number of other possible LRT, BRT, and commuter rail lines, key contributions from the federal, state, or local government are not assured. Further, while the regional sales tax for transit (administered by CTIB) can eventually be counted on to pay an important share of operating costs for Bottineau or other LRT lines, those funds are limited in nature and cannot be used to improve bus connections to LRT lines or to provide local bus service in neighborhoods and cities where LRT will not travel.
In conclusion, to serve the growing demand for transit it is imperative that planning for the Bottineau LRT corridor continue without delay. As our region builds out a 21st-century transit system, we must make sure that all communities have fair, improved access to jobs, school, and health care with travel options that can save them time and money. We also need to persuade political leaders at all levels of government to increase investment in a combination of transit service—from doorway to destination—that includes trains, buses, bike routes, and sidewalks.