Mayors take on Met Council over Blue Line light rail extension

A key committee voted last week to proceed full speed ahead with the proposed route for the Twin Cities next light-rail boondoggle in the works, the $1.5 billion and counting Blue Line Extension between Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park.

But the mayors of two inner ring suburbs no longer want to go along for the ride, at least not on the route that project planners have recommended for Met Council approval later this month. Their opposition spells trouble that potentially threatens the viability of the project, according to the Star Tribune.

Last week, the mayors of Robbinsdale and Crystal expressed opposition to a new 13-mile alignment for the Blue Line extension. And growing resistance in the Lyn Park neighborhood of north Minneapolis will make planning the project even more complicated for the Met Council and Hennepin County.

The debate raises questions whether a state law requiring cities and counties to grant “municipal consent” for light-rail routes will be tested for the first time. It wasn’t a roadblock for the existing Blue and Green lines, or for the Southwest light-rail project now under construction.

The Met Council evidently expects to persuade the two cities somehow before the critical municipal approval vote comes up in the next year or so. Yet such staunch opposition from two of the four cities needed to approve the line may be more a challenge than the agency anticipates.

Others aren’t so sure. “I’m not in support of this line, and I’m not ready to move forward,” said Crystal Mayor Jim Adams during the Blue Line Extension’s Corridor Management Committee meeting Thursday.

Adams is mostly concerned that light rail will result in fewer traffic lanes on busy Hwy. 81. “None of the designs or concepts they’ve brought to us have fallen into the realm of what we asked for,” he said Friday. “I’m not confident our concerns will be addressed.”

The planning for the light rail route went south when the BNSF railroad corridor was taken off the table.

The new route calls for light-rail trains to to travel on West Broadway through north Minneapolis, and mostly along Hwy. 81 to Brooklyn Park. The previous iteration was expected to cost $1.5 billion to build, but the current price tag is unclear. So far, $132 million has been spent on the project.

Previous plans featured a station in Robbinsdale in the BNSF corridor, but the stop is now located in the middle of Hwy. 81 — a move that prompted Mayor Bill Blonigan to oppose the project after years of support.

Moreover, opposition to the alternative route appears to be spreading to some North Minneapolis residents.

The recent development worries many residents of Lyn Park, a suburban-like enclave in north Minneapolis, who say the light-rail trains on Lyndale Avenue will create a safety hazard and destroy the tranquility in their neighborhood. They prefer that the line travel from Target Field along Washington Avenue on the east side of Interstate 94.

Despite mounting objections to the line, planners will proceed with design work following the Met Council’s expected approval. Never mind that ridership levels on the existing lines remain far below pre-pandemic levels, partly due to the crime and threat to passenger safety that remains to be adequately addressed by the Met Council. Yet the state law requiring local approval of the cities touched by the increasingly controversial line offers a tantalizing tool if opponents decide to go that route.