Light rail route through North Mpls still unsettled

Photo by Henry Pan A Metro Transit bus crosses West Broadway at Penn Avenue in North Minneapolis

Blue Line environmental comments accepted until Nov. 7

Northside residents have scored some wins, yet they remain concerned about the impacts the Blue Line Extension may have as the Metropolitan Council prepares to study how it will affect the community.

The Blue Line Extension is years in the making. The Met Council began planning the route, which was called the Bottineau Light Rail project, about a decade ago. They proposed to route it through North Minneapolis, but after community opposition over displacement and demolition of homes, they instead decided to route it on Olson Memorial Highway and Theodore Wirth Park.

However, a dispute with Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, as well as desires to better serve and connect the North Side to the rest of the region, necessitated that the Met Council realign the Blue Line through North Minneapolis. 

Federal law requires agencies developing projects of this scale to complete an environmental impact assessment. Agencies are required to study routing the project on different alignments, possibly using different modes, in addition to a scenario where they would not build the line at all, to understand how it will affect its surroundings environmentally, socially and economically. If it has any adverse impact, the agency must develop a solution to address it. 

Although the Met Council has already done a report, the route changes—running it on Bottineau Boulevard instead of the railroad right-of-way, and through North Minneapolis—requires them to add to the report. One of the alignments they are studying is running the light rail just east of Interstate 94 after furor from Lyn-Park homeowners over the possibility that some parts of their properties might be taken by eminent domain and that light rail would decimate their property values. 

But it doesn’t mean the Lyndale option is completely ruled out. The agency may opt to run the light rail down Lyndale as it appears to be cheaper, and they want to prioritize running service at grade as much as possible. 

This has Mary Glover, a Lyn-Park resident, frustrated. “They keep showing everything coming from right down Lyndale no matter what we say in the whole community,” said Glover, who is worried about safely crossing the tracks and being stuck behind a bus when it is stopped, since Lyndale would be reduced to one lane in each direction if planners stick with that plan.

Although running light rail east of Interstate 94 may impact fewer properties, it may require demolishing an apartment building in the North Loop neighborhood owned by NSA Properties. NSA Properties did not respond to requests for comment at press time. 

Tracey Pennie, who lives in North Minneapolis but once lived along the Blue Line, attended a Met Council-hosted Blue Line Extension meeting in late September to stand in solidarity with Lyn-Park neighbors because of her experiences owning a home along the Blue Line’s Hiawatha segment.  

Pennie said construction of the original Blue Line segment wrecked her home. “[A fence they built for the line] came to be a problem for us, because they build up a hill behind your house for a wall,” said Pennie. “So, when it rains, you have all that water coming down to your property, to your foundation.”

Pennie also said she has trouble selling her home. “When we went to get a realtor to sell the home, he’s like, ‘Well, what’s going on? It’s a beautiful home.’ He said, ‘It’s the light rail. People want to ride it, but they really don’t want to live that close to it,’” said Pennie. 

To the north, residents on 21st Ave. say running a light rail by their homes makes them uncomfortable in part because of the regional light rail system’s reputation for drug use, which may contribute to higher drug use rates and overdoses in the surrounding neighborhood. Indeed, the agency acknowledged at a Met Council meeting in early October that police calls to respond to drug use in June 2022 nearly doubled from June 2021. 

Daeisha Wilson is also worried about the project’s impact on parking, in part because of ongoing carjackings. “A lot of cars get stolen and hijacked around here. So me personally, I like to keep my car right [in front of my home] just because I live on the first floor, I can look out the window and check it instead of having it a block away from me,” said Wilson. 

The project team is not considering running part of the Blue Line in mixed traffic through North Minneapolis, like how the Green Line runs between Union Depot Station and its operations and maintenance facility in Lowertown, which squeezes light rail trains, traffic, parking, and two sidewalks onto one street.

“That’s just not an option that we will explore, breaking up light rail segments like that,” said project spokesperson Trevor Roy. “[The Blue Line Extension] is not just a standalone project. It connects to an overall…larger system. LRT serves as a spine.”

It’s unclear how building a light rail line partially in mixed-flow traffic on a street that serves mostly residences would fare. Detroit’s Q-Line streetcar, which opened in 2017, is plagued with delays as it operates with traffic downtown. 

On the other hand, San Francisco runs a light rail line through a street similar to West Broadway Ave. in the historically Black Bayview District shared with traffic to allow for parking, sidewalk amenities, and to keep two travel lanes in each direction. Although the environmental document predicted minimal impact, the line shares a subway tunnel with four other routes downtown, which saddles the route with delays. 

The Met Council plans to release a draft of the environmental impact report sometime early next year. 

Comments on what the environmental review should study, which can include alignments on different streets, types of vehicles to be used, and types of services offered, can be sent online at www.surveymonkey.com/r/SVXSM2H, by e-mail to neha.damle@metrotransit.org or be mailed to Ms. Neha Damle, Environmental Lead, Blue Line Extension Project Office, 6465 Wayzata Boulevard, Suite 500, St. Louis Park, MN 55426. 

One Comment on “Light rail route through North Mpls still unsettled”

  1. Running it in mixed-traffic would waste the value of the investment and handicap our transit users once again to the whims of car drives. I lived by a light rail for a year. After a month you barely even notice the trains anymore.

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