Despite gentrification concerns, Met Council, Hennepin County move Blue Line along

Metro Transit’s controversial Blue Line Extension through North Minneapolis will move forward with federally mandated environmental review, which will take up to two years, thanks to blessings from three Metropolitan Council committees and Hennepin County.

This comes amid ongoing tension among communities along the route, some of whom are worried about being displaced, gentrified, and having their lives disrupted when the project opens in 2028. 

Others have questioned if building the line makes sense with travel patterns transformed by the pandemic, as well as its potential impact on people who drive. 

One concerned resident is Kim Smith, who owns a home adjacent to where the Blue Line extension is being proposed on Lyndale Avenue in the city’s Lyn-Park neighborhood, a suburban subdivision located a mile northwest of downtown. 

Smith is worried the presence of a light rail would tank her home’s property values, a finding reiterated by the University of Minnesota Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, which presented at their June 4 anti-displacement workshop that the value of Twin Cities properties adjacent to light rail tracks—not stations — declined after the line opened. 

“As a Native American and an African American, this is my first opportunity at generational wealth,” Smith said. “This house is my son’s inheritance. He doesn’t want a train running right behind our house. And if this train comes through, it’ll make this property worthless.”

Smith organized her neighbors to oppose the project at the Corridor Management Committee in early June, where its members voted to advance it 7-4. Met Council staff presented at the July 14 committee meeting that they will convene City staff to evaluate different alternatives to get light rail through North Minneapolis, which could include routing it off of Lyndale. 

At the meeting, Ricardo Perez, one of two members of the Blue Line Anti-Displacement Coalition who sits on the corridor management committee and who voted the project down, said they wanted to see anti-displacement strategies in place before the project moves any further. 

“We are disappointed that we weren’t able to put anti-displacement solutions before the route modification,” said Perez. “We don’t oppose the project. But we do remember collectively, all of the other projects in our region that have disproportionately hurt communities of color with our tax dollars, like the Rondo neighborhood.”

The federal government requires agencies working on major infrastructure projects like this to conduct environmental review, which evaluates what impacts it may have on water, noise, property, open space, historic resources, traffic, and people who use vehicles to get around and to devise solutions to lessen those impacts. 

“Part of the environmental review and design process will be to assess traffic and emergency access to identify mitigation actions if they are needed, such as having the trains flow with traffic and stop at traffic lights for emergency vehicles, which are currently implemented on the existing Green Line,” said project spokesperson Trevor Roy.

Roy previously told the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder that stopping the project in its tracks until they resolve displacement concerns would endanger the project’s ability to get federal funding. “If that happens, no more project,” said Roy.

Indeed, some people along the extension corridor are concerned about the project’s impacts on traffic. Corridor Management Committee representatives from Crystal and Robbinsdale, for example, voted the alignment down over the loss of travel lanes. They want the light rail to operate along an existing freight rail corridor and hope to push the state to talk to BNSF, the corridor’s owner who for years refused to negotiate with the Met Council. 

Robbinsdale Mayor Bill Blonigan introduced a resolution at a July 14 corridor management committee meeting asking Gov. Tim Walz and Sens. Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar to incentivize railroads to share their corridors with light rail lines, which was not voted on. 

Representatives from Crystal and Robbinsdale aren’t alone, as Smith is also concerned that light rail will affect her and her neighbors’ abilities to access their homes, which are mostly located on cul-de-sacs.

Preliminary plans call for Lyndale to be reduced to one lane in each direction, without left turns or shoulders for vehicles to pull over to let emergency vehicles through. “So that means that either firetrucks are going to have to drive up on the sidewalk to get around traffic, or they’re gonna expect cars to drive up on the sidewalk to let emergency vehicles through,” said Smith. 

Nine-year-old Magaly Bautista said at the meeting she is worried about how the train would affect people who bike and walk. “We have to go back and forth [across the street] and [we] can get hurt or killed,” said Bautista at the meeting in June. 

Metro Transit trains have collided with people walking and biking before, most recently on June 8 when a Green Line train struck a person on a bike at Raymond Avenue in St. Paul.

After the alignment passed the Met Council Transportation Committee unanimously on June 13 with little debate, the full Met Council then voted to advance the alignment on June 22, with Wendy Wulff, who represents Dakota and rural Scott Counties, dissenting.

“We’ve had such a fundamental change in transit ridership, and without being able to update ridership numbers, spending that kind of money to do the engineering seems to be a little premature,” said Wulff. 

Still, the Hennepin County Board, which is the other organization leading the planning for the light rail extension, voted 7-0 to advance the alignment on their consent agenda at their June 21 meeting. Board members cited the importance of bringing people to jobs no matter where they live. 

“When you put a couple of pieces of metal in the ground [in this case, light rail tracks], you solidify the commitment [to transit]. It also means that people can’t be messed with, that people can make decisions to live somewhere and get to work and not have bus lines change [on them],” said Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Lunde at the meeting.

The corridor’s Business Advisory Committee also supported the alignment, with a resolution that directs the agency to engage more with businesses and residents along West Broadway and 21st Avenues, given any proposal to route the Blue Line or traffic onto 21st Avenue would involve demolishing homes.