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They meet in one another's living rooms, at local coffee shops, in libraries and sometimes virtually — plotting the fight against the Metropolitan Council's plans to build multimillion-dollar public transit projects in their neighborhoods.

They're the grassroots groups that have come together across the Twin Cities to oppose projects in the works, such as the proposed Blue Line light-rail extension between Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, the Purple Line bus-rapid transit project in the east metro and the Southwest light-rail line in the west metro.

In recent months they've formed an umbrella organization called Transit Done Right, sharing resources, tips and strategies on how to fend off the projects.

And they've seen some success — at least from their point of view — in potentially changing those projects' routes.

The Blue Line extension's current alignment "wasn't presented as an alternative. It was an edict," said George Selman, a former Robbinsdale City Council member and co-founder of SLR81 (Stop Light Rail on 81), a group of suburban residents who live near the proposed route.

The group is pushing the Met Council to abandon light rail in favor of bus-rapid transit, which they deem a more "common sense" solution for their communities.

The idea that the Met Council, the regional planning body that oversees the big transit projects, might pivot to an entirely different transit mode for the Blue Line extension after already spending $143 million on it may seem farfetched.

But the project also has drawn opposition from Lyn Park residents in north Minneapolis, who oppose trains running along nearby Lyndale Avenue, and the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition in Minneapolis.

Even Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey appears open to possible alternatives.

"I'm hoping to find a way to make light rail work, but I'm not ruling out other modes of transportation or routes as options," Frey said, in a statement to the Star Tribune. "Any route or mode must minimize displacement, and stand up for the residents and businesses that call West Broadway home."

Ultimately, Hennepin County and each of the cities along the Blue Line extension route need to grant municipal consent, a requirement under state law that has never been seriously challenged. They're expected to take those votes next year.

Critical moment for Blue Line

In the meantime, Blue Line extension opponents are expressing their concerns at public meetings. They're distributing petitions, lawn signs and flyers, and knocking on doors to spread the word. Most telling of all, they're contacting their elected officials.

"The Met Council doesn't listen to what people in the community are saying," said Mary Pattock, a board member of the Lakes and Parks Alliance, a community group that has opposed the $2.7 billion Southwest light-rail line for more than a decade. The group filed a lawsuit against the Met Council in 2014, which was ultimately unsuccessful, seeking to block the Southwest line.

Southwest is about 75% complete, despite being more than $1 billion over budget, nearly a decade behind schedule, and the target of a state watchdog probe. Its numerous controversies are often used as a rallying cry for Transit Done Right activists, including those opposed to the Southwest and Blue Line extension projects and the Purple Line.

"People have had enough and they are starting to organize across the metro," Pattock said.

Lively debate is normal when it comes to big infrastructure projects, said Nick Thompson, Metro Transit's deputy general manager for capital programs. And transit planners welcome feedback from community groups, he said. Such projects, he added, "always have both strong supporters and some people who don't want it."

For the Blue Line extension, Met Council officials say they have hosted or attended 700 events and had nearly 17,600 points of contact with community members. That effort is approaching a critical juncture, as staffers are expected to make a route recommendation affecting north Minneapolis next month.

When asked about switching the Blue Line extension from light rail to BRT, Thompson said they're planning a light-rail project in the corridor "until we're not. If you were to switch to a different mode you'd be starting over."

The Purple Line debate

There's some indication that pushback has worked for opponents of the Purple Line (formerly called the Rush Line) in White Bear Lake, the intended terminus for the project, which originates at Union Depot in downtown St. Paul.

When the White Bear Lake City Council got new leaders in 2022, they quickly passed a resolution requesting that the line not travel within White Bear Lake's borders.

The council's roster was changed with the help of the No Rush Line Coalition, which claims the Purple Line would destroy White Bear Lake's small-town charm. The group has also questioned whether there are enough potential riders to support BRT service, given post-pandemic transit declines and the rise of remote work.

Coalition spokesman Tim David, a retired consultant who lives in White Bear Lake, said the group is nonpartisan and noted that it didn't endorse any City Council candidates.

"But we did campaign to help tell the story about council members who better represent the community in terms of the Purple Line," he said. "Our goal is not to stop public transit. We didn't think the Purple Line was a great fit."

David rejects criticism from transit advocates that the anti-Purple Line campaign is fueled by NIMBYism or, worse yet, racist attitudes. "We avoid that type of discussion," he said.

"Lots of people tell me they don't support light rail, they support buses. But when it comes to buses, they don't support them" either, said Hennepin County Board Member Jeff Lunde, referring to those who oppose public transit in general.

Unlike light-rail projects, bus-rapid transit projects do not need municipal consent from adjoining communities. Theoretically, the Met Council could have forged ahead despite the White Bear Lake vote.

But in an unusual move, transit planners — who had already moved the northernmost stop from the heart of downtown White Bear Lake to Hwy. 61 — opted to end the line in Maplewood instead, following the White Bear Lake resolution.

Now Purple Line foes are intent on blocking the line's route along the Bruce Vento Regional Trail, which Ramsey County has long planned to use as a transit corridor. In response, the Met Council is studying whether White Bear Avenue might be a better route for the Purple Line in Maplewood.

"You can't stop the Met Council, but you can influence them," David said. "You can have an impact."

More possibilities

The Met Council has agreed to study an alternate route for the Blue Line extension east of Interstate 94 following protests from Lyn Park residents. Others in north Minneapolis favor running the line on 21st Avenue N., to spare W. Broadway, the community's cultural and commercial heart. That's being studied too.

Eva Young, a Lyn Park resident who opposes the Lyndale Avenue route, said she believes the Met Council is interested in "marketing rather than engaging and listening."

No price tag has been attached to the Blue Line extension project, although early estimates were in the $1.5 billion range. Service is expected to begin between 2028 and 2030.

Farther up the line, Selman and others fear that light-rail trains running along the new route — busy Hwy. 81, also known as Bottineau Boulevard — will sever their communities and create unsafe and potentially deadly intersections.

But Lunde, the Hennepin commissioner who represents the northwest suburbs, said the Hwy. 81 alignment is more economical because it doesn't use right-of-way controlled by railroads. Plus, he noted, it will serve some of the most disadvantaged areas of the metro.

Selman has vowed that his group will follow the lead of the Purple Line's opponents, working "to get people elected" with views that align with their own.

"This is a 100-year decision," he said. The notion "of public transportation at any cost is not a responsible position."