Blue Line Extension Project could see infusion of funding if state bill passes

Blue line extension project

Blue line extension project

Hennepin County could receive $200 million in funding for the Blue Line Extension Project if a bill moves forward at the Minnesota Legislature.

Rep. Cedric Frazier introduced the legislation, which would appropriate the funds to the Metropolitan Council for a grant to the County or the Hennepin County Railroad Authority. It could be used for most steps of the project, from predesign to environmental review to construction. 

“I hope that I am around to see the completion of this project,” said Rep. Frazier during an informational hearing on Friday. “I think the economic impact would be huge.”

The Blue Line Extension would connect downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park, with nearly a dozen stops along the way.

“This is us asking for infrastructure to get us where we need to go as a city,” said Brooklyn Park Mayor Hollies Winston, who supports the project.

The light rail would run along the busy W Broadway Ave. corridor in Brooklyn Park and make multiple stops between Brooklyn Blvd. and Oak Grove.

“There’s pockets of our city where they feel like they’re landlocked because they don’t feel like they have access to public transportation,” said Winston, who believes the addition of the light rail would improve access.

It would also encourage commercial development, he said, which would help the city’s tax base.

“We have a larger police department, we have larger services and things that we offer, so we need to be able to fund those without putting an undue burned on residents,” he said. “The light rail, for me, is an ability for us to bring that type of development.”

Blue Line light rail extension

Blue Line light rail extension

Planning for the Blue Line Extension has spanned a decade. The project has faced setbacks, including the abandonment of the original proposed route that would’ve shared BNSF’s existing freight corridor.

In June 2022, the Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County Board decided to move forward with a new route, which included some overlap with the original plans for Brooklyn Park. The project is still in the supplemental environmental review process and a draft environmental impact statement is expected to be published in late 2023, according to a spokesperson. After public comment on that draft, a final version will be prepared in 2024 to reflect the refined project design.

“A lot of people still really don’t know what’s going on,” said Ricardo Perez, a coalition organizer with The Alliance. He also helps staff the Blue Line Coalition. “Due to the lack of knowledge, community may be missing out on participating in a way where […] their concern and their vision is being heard.”

Perez also raised concerns that businesses and people living along the corridor are being displaced amid pressure for development.

“We are really concerned about the impacts that building a train through north Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park will bring,” said Perez. 

The Blue Line Extension is also moving forward as a major Green Line extension faces criticism. A recent audit found the Southwest Light Rail project is a billion dollars over budget and years behind schedule.

A Metro Transit spokesperson was unable to provide an updated cost estimate for the Blue Line Extension, in an e-mail writing, “As the project moves forward through the environmental and design phases and final route is recommended an updated cost estimate will be developed.”

The pandemic also marked a significant decrease in ridership. More than 11 million people rode the Blue Line in 2018 and 2019. Ridership dropped to about 4 million people in 2020 and 2021, with only a slight increase to 5.4 million in 2022.

The possibility of light rail access is what drew Design Ready Controls to Brooklyn Park. The manufacturer employs about 280 people at that location.

“The biggest area of getting someone to work is how do they get to work, right? Public transportation is a key part of it,” said John Hacker, the CFO.

He’s been a member of the Metro Blue Line Extension Business Advisory Committee for the last two years and hopes the project moves forward. “Everybody obviously wants it to go a lot faster but it is a process and now it’s moving,” said Hacker.