Doubling light rail expansion: Critics question the cost of carrying out two billion-dollar projects simultaneously

As the multi-billion dollar Southwest Light Rail project bogged down with delays, cost increases and questions about damage to nearby condo buildings in Minneapolis, landlords on the north side of the city ​​were watching closely.

The Metropolitan Council recently approved a plan to extend the Blue Line through the Lyn Park neighborhood and past Kathy Neitzke’s home on Lyndale Avenue.

“I just don’t trust what they’re planning for our community,” Neitzke said.

Residents continue to raise concerns about crime, safety and access to their neighborhood, which some describe as a “suburban piece” within the city.

But Neitzke and others also question the prudence of moving forward with another billion-dollar light rail project while construction of the Southwest Light Rail is still years behind schedule.

“They’re using federal money, tax money, our livelihoods, our security,” Neitzke said. “That’s why I say we have to take a break here. We need to get better decision making.

The Met Council and Hennepin County voted last month to move forward with the design and engineering of the Blue Line, though those agencies have yet to explain how they will find the $500 million needed. to complete the South West Tram project.

Responsibility promises

Reva Chamblis, Met council member for District 2, is among those saying they can and must complete the two light rail projects.

“I think the big word is accountability,” Chamblis said in an interview with 5 INVESTIGATES. “We are responsible for making this project happen… We are responsible to the residents, we are responsible to the businesses, we are responsible to the people who are going to benefit from the light rail projects.

Met Council Member for District 2 Reva Chamblis speaks with 5 INVESTIGATES reporter Eric Rasmussen (KSTP)

Executives say it’s too early to know exactly how much the Blue Line expansion will cost, but the man who helped build the original Blue Line 20 years ago says it’s not unreasonable that taxpayers are skeptical.

El Tinklenberg is a former MnDOT commissioner who oversaw the Twin Cities’ first light rail project, which began running trains in 2004.

“We were fully aware that it was the first one, we had to make it happen because that would be what would lead to the next and the next,” Tinklenberg said.

But he is now worried that the Met Council has lost some of the public’s trust as the South West Light Rail project, an extension of the Green Line, is still incomplete and undergoing an audit by the state.

Former MnDOT Commissioner El Tinklenberg Discusses Proposed Blue Line Extension (KSTP)

“I don’t think they see the current draft being neat enough to warrant jumping into another one,” Tinklenberg said. “It would be a bit like someone building you a house, and they would come to you and say, ‘There are problems, and there are delays, and oh, by the way, it’s going to cost twice as much Expensive, but the good news is that next week we’ll be starting your cabin!”

Community impact

Proponents of the Blue Line extension say it is necessary to provide more access and opportunity to historically disenfranchised communities.

Landlords who held a community meeting with Met Council and Hennepin County project managers in May questioned the government’s promises of accountability.

Some say they worry about the kind of destruction that hit the historically Black Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul during the construction of Interstate 94.

“You’re taking the train to the wrong people,” said Spike Moss, a Minneapolis community activist. “We finally have a neighborhood with decent homes, and you want to push it through?”

Dan Soler, a senior Hennepin County program administrator, told the anxious crowd that this time would be different.

“Our leaders are very interested in building this transportation improvement for North Minneapolis, not North Minneapolis,” Soler said.

Proposed Blue Line extension could run along Lyndale Avenue in North Minneapolis (KSTP)

Hennepin County Commissioner Irene Fernando declined an interview request from 5 INVESTIGATES, but in a statement, the Blue Line extension is “positioned to serve among the most racially and economically diverse communities.”

“I didn’t push for a specific alignment, nor will I in the future. Instead, I’ve worked to ensure community feedback informs the project as we move forward. said Fernando, who is also a member of the METRO Blue Line Extension Corridor Management Committee.

“The more we engage people, the more we show accountability for delivering our projects in a way that includes everyone and benefits all of our communities along the corridor, the more that trust will be built,” Chamblis said.

Mayors push back

The mayors of two towns on the Blue Line extension discussed “trust issues” at a recent meeting where they voted against the proposed route.

Robbinsdale’s Bill Blonigan said project managers should not have abandoned initial plans to run light rail along the existing BNSF freight corridor after they were unable to reach an agreement with the railway company of iron.

Bill Blonigan, Mayor of Robbinsdale, says community is against proposal (KSTP)

Last week, the Blue Line Light Rail Extension Corridor Management Committee refused to consider a Robbinsdale resolution that would have asked Governor Tim Walz and the Minnesota congressional delegation to try to bring BNSF back. at the negotiating table.

Crystal Mayor Jim Adams also raised concerns about pedestrian access, additional transit resources in the city, and the loss of vehicle lanes if the planned route becomes a reality.

“I think the community, in a lot of ways, doesn’t support that,” Adams said.

Chamblis disagrees.

“I was shocked when I heard that, and that’s not the feeling I got,” Chamblis said. “We have made a very deep commitment to Crystal, businesses and residents.”

She also says development is already building around planned stops on the Green Line extension to Eden Prairie as reasons for optimism.

But that project is already four years behind schedule – trains aren’t expected to start running there until 2027.

The plan to complete the Blue Line extension and start the service by 2028 still needs to pass a vote of towns along the route, known as municipal consent, as well as an agreement with the government federal government to fund part of the project.

“Does everyone support him? No. But we must do our best to ensure that our state, county, city, residents and businesses can understand the benefits of this project and why it is important for us to move forward,” said Chamblis. “We have to finish what we started.

Jose P. Rogers