HENNEPIN COUNTY, Minn. – Met Council and Hennepin County approved a grant agreement and the Blue Line Extension Corridor Management Committee support the analysis of the staff-recommended light rail track route.
Yesterday, the Metropolitan Council announced it has, along with the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, approved a “grant agreement that will provide $75.3 million in county funds for the METRO Blue Line Extension light rail project to keep project work going through the end of 2024.”
Earlier this week, The Met Council approved the agreement on September 13th. This follows a “unanimous vote by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners to provide the funding and approve the agreement on Tuesday, Aug. 22.”
With this funding, the project will be able to “continue engineering and consulting services necessary to advance design and environmental analysis, continue extensive outreach and engagement efforts, advance implementation of strategies to build community prosperity and prevent displacement, update ridership projections, prepare an updated cost estimate and schedule, [and] prepare plans and other technical information required to seek municipal consent from cities along the corridor.”
Moreover, the agreement establishes a process for the project that identifies the responsibilities of both the Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County.
Irene Fernando, Hennepin County Board Chair and District 2 Commissioner said: “We have demonstrated a shared commitment to centering residents, prioritizing those with the most needs, and investing in a manner that allows the people and businesses already in the corridor to thrive. . . This agreement allows that critical work to continue and gives us a strong partnership structure to maximize benefits of this project for current corridor resident and businesses.”
Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle said: “The proposed Capital Grant Agreement emphasizes partnership, collaboration, shared decision-making, risk management strategies, and transparency within a new governance model. . . We value our strong collaborative partnership with Hennepin County as we continue to innovate in delivering the Blue Line Extension Project to connect people to opportunities and bring transformative benefits to the communities it serves.”
Governance changes in the agreement are as follows:
- “The pact authorizes agreements with funding partners for each project phase.
- A new governance model, the Project Decisions Board, will be formed to approve and authorize major project decisions. The new board will be made up of two county commissioners, one commissioner from the regional railroad authority, and two Metropolitan Council members.
- An integrated project office with staff from both Hennepin County and Metropolitan Council leadership roles will continue to work collaboratively to deliver the project.
- Streamlined reporting and processes will be implemented that maximize efficiencies for both parties.
- Financial roles are clarified.”
The financial responsibilities between Hennepin County and the Met Council are as follows:
- “The Met Council will be responsible for federal funds in a future Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), with its contributions limited to FFGA and any funds provided to the Met Council specifically for Blue Line Extension. The Met Council is also responsible for future operations and capital maintenance (not covered in this Capital Grant Agreement).
- Hennepin County is responsible for the local share of funding in engineering and construction phases, including project start-up costs.
- Through the new Project Decisions Board, both parties have approval of project budget, contract awards and change orders.”
This approval allows the project to advance to design planning and completing the municipal consent process starting next summer. Early next year and into the Spring, there should be updated ridership projections and a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. By the summer, “municipal consent process begins to confirm final route.” After an updated cost estimate next year, 2024 and 2025 will go into the final design with construction starting in 2026 and 2027. The anticipated opening is 2030.
Additionally, the Blue Line Extension Corridor Management Committee “signaled their support for advancing the analysis of the staff-recommended light rail track route and general station locations for the Blue Line Extension light rail project.”
The body of elected officials passed a resolution yesterday in support of Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council “continuing to advance the track route and stations through the federal environmental review process. The route will be further studied through preparation of a document known as the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This further analysis will bring a more detailed understanding of the potential opportunities and impacts of the route through additional engineering, design, community engagement and environmental evaluation.” The SEIS will help to identify any potential impacts to the project associated with the proposed route. These impacts include any impacts to business, transportation, historic properties, land use changes, parks, soils, water, and geological resources, among others.
Project Director Christine Beckwith stated: “This is a big milestone for the project. . . Now that we have a better idea of where our tracks could go to best serve the community and general station locations to study, we will be able to develop enough detail to answer questions about how the project will benefit residents and businesses. We will also be able to address how to avoid or address impacts during construction and from train operations.”
The news release details the proposed track route and stations as “first introduced at the August Corridor Management Committee meeting[.] The proposed track route extends the existing METRO Blue Line 13.4 miles northwest from Target Field Station connecting north Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Crystal, and Brooklyn Park and serving surrounding communities. From north to south, the general route and 12 station locations are:
- West Broadway Avenue to County Road 81, with stations at:
- Oak Grove Parkway
- 93rd Avenue North
- 85th Avenue North
- Brooklyn Boulevard
- 63rd Avenue North
- County Road 81 with a station at:
- Bass Lake Road
- County Road 81 with stations near:
- 40th Avenue North
- Lowry Avenue
- West Broadway Avenue in north Minneapolis with a station at:
- Penn Avenue
- 21st Avenue North between North James Avenue and Washington Avenue North, with stations near:
- James Avenue North
- Lyndale Avenue North
- Washington Avenue to 10th Avenue North with a station near:
- Plymouth Avenue
- Oak Lake Avenue to 7th Street North, connecting to:
- Target Field Station in downtown Minneapolis”