Blue Line transit extension through North Mpls revised

Blacks ‘well represented’ in the planning process

Metro Council District 7 member Gary Cunningham
Metro Council District 7 member Gary Cunningham

Metropolitan Council officials are optimistic that the estimated $1 billion Metro Blue Line Extension (Bottineau) light rail transit project is becoming much closer to realizing its anticipated 2018 construction start date. When completed in 2021, the nearly 13-mile Bottineau train from downtown Minneapolis through North Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park will connect with the existing Blue Line.

The Met Council, a policymaking board whose oversight responsibilities include the Twin Cities region’s bus and train systems, has held five public open houses in October, including one last week at Harrison Community Center in North Minneapolis, “to receive feedback from the community [and] to provide the latest information on ongoing LRT design and station area plans,” according to a Met Council press release.

Met Council spokesman John Welbes last week told the MSR, “We’ve had several meetings here” at Harrison Park. “This has been laid out for them, and we certainly haven’t heard any opposition. People are still getting information about it.”

Originally designed to travel along Penn Avenue North, “The line would have taken the full street [and] about 120 houses.” Instead, the plan is now to run the line straight down Olson Highway out of downtown before heading northwest to Brooklyn Park, explained Welbes. “No residential residences” will be affected, and Olson Highway “will get new sidewalks” as a result, he added.

Gary Cunningham, who represents Metro Council District 7, told the MSR that after the Penn Avenue alignment wasn’t approved, he, State Senator Bobby Joe Champion, and former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels “negotiated” with City and County officials for three things:

  • A bus-rapid transit project to include a “redesign[ed]” Penn Avenue
  • Met Council improvements to bus shelters and stops in North Minneapolis
  • An “alternative analysis study” on possibly installing streetcars on West Broadway

Cunningham said he’s pleased with the current Bottineau plan, which includes adding a new traffic light at Thomas Avenue and Olson Highway, new lane shifts for turn lanes, and new and “enhanced” pedestrian lighting. “You will have improved crossings — mid-block crossings — where [pedestrians] can cross, not necessarily at a [stop]light, but [you] can cross the tracks safely,” noted Welbes.

Cunningham, whose district includes downtown, North Minneapolis, South Minneapolis and Robbinsdale, emphasized the community’s involvement in the project’s planning stage. This involvement included Minnesota Education Equity Partnership Director Marika Pfefferkorn and Aasim Shabazz of the University of Minnesota, both of whom are members of the African American Leadership Forum as well as the Corridor Management Committee (CMC), said Cunningham.

The CMC is composed of elected representatives and citizens from all the cities along the line as well as Hennepin County and state agencies. “It is a diverse group,” explained Welbes. “We run plans by them and get their input, and they give feedback on what they like in the plan.”

“They’ve done an excellent job,” said Cunningham of Pfefferkorn and Shabazz as CMC members. “We are not only talking about it [among ourselves], but [we are] also at the table for the first time. We are not sitting on the sidelines,” He added that to his knowledge, “The fact that African American people are well represented is a first. I am not alone anymore,” stated the Metropolitan Council’s only Black member.

The CMC has scheduled a Nov. 12 meeting in Brooklyn Center to vote on a final recommendation on the Blue Line Extension’s latest construction and design plans. If approved, the Met Council will then consider the recommendation, said Community Outreach Coordinator Sophia Ginis, who represents Minneapolis.

It’s important that the people “who we want to use the line” be involved as well “all up and down the line” said Hennepin County Commissioner Linda Higgins.

The Met Council anticipates that 49 percent of the project’s funding will come from the Federal Transit Administration, 31 percent from the Counties Transit Improvement Board, and 10 percent each from Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the State of Minnesota. Higgins told the MSR, “I’m an optimist. We’ve done so much work. The federal government should view it favorably. The toughest hurdle always is the state government’s share.”

Said Cunningham, “I don’t want to jump up and down until the project is completed,” but he added that he is pleased that the Blue Line Extension project is “being very inclusive, given that low-income people — especially in North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center — have a high ridership on [public] transit,” and that downtown Minneapolis “is the biggest bus stop in the state. When you go down there, who do you see? Us [Black folk]. We need to ensure as taxpayers that we participate fully [in] whatever decisions are made.”

On this project and other transportation issues, Cunningham noted, “We have to make sure that the voices of the riders, who are people of color and the community, have a voice at the table.”

 

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.