Suburban mayors and community groups that support the Bottineau Blue Line light-rail project tried to force transit planners Thursday to more aggressively negotiate with a freight rail company that owns much of the land along its route.
But the move to go back to the bargaining table with the Texas-based BNSF Railway failed after other supporters of the line, which would link Target Field with Brooklyn Park, said such efforts were futile and it was time to move on.
A deal with the rail giant to share part of the corridor has been key to moving Bottineau forward, but years of negotiations have failed to secure a deal. Critics said the effort was lackluster.
“You’re not talking to the railroad unless you’re threatening them,” said Brooklyn Park Mayor Jeff Lunde at the Bottineau Corridor Management Committee meeting Thursday.
The Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County announced last week that they were abandoning Bottineau’s route after BNSF repeatedly said it was not interested in sharing 8 miles of the project’s 13-mile corridor with light-rail trains.
“Staring at something that’s not moving won’t make it move,” said Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle.
The original route would have served parts of north Minneapolis along with Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, Crystal and Brooklyn Park — some of the most impoverished and transit-dependent communities in the Twin Cities.
Minneapolis City Council representatives said Thursday a course change could result in a route that better serves the North Side. The abandoned route would have traveled along Olson Hwy. and Wirth Park but did not serve the heart of north Minneapolis.
“I remain open to alternative routes to serve north Minneapolis,” said Council Member Phillipe Cunningham. His council colleague, Jeremiah Ellison, agreed: “We want to make sure residents are served by the line.”
But Dan Soler, who oversees transit projects for Hennepin County, said they weren’t talking about a new project. “We want to maintain as much of the existing alignment as possible,” he said.
And Zelle said he feared additional engagement with BNSF would further sap “limited resources.”
As initially planned, Bottineau was estimated to cost $1.5 billion with the federal government paying nearly half. It’s unclear how much more the delay will cost; to date, about $129 million has been spent from local coffers.
The vote on the measure to keep fighting for the current alignment failed 11-6, with one abstention. The discord was rare for Bottineau, which has enjoyed widespread support among the communities it would serve — unlike the Southwest light-rail line, which prompted a legal challenge from enraged residents in Minneapolis.
Golden Valley Mayor Shep Harris, who led the charge to keep negotiating with the railroad, albeit in a more-aggressive fashion, said he was disappointed with the vote.
“To me, it says the Met Council and by extension the governor are not interested in trying to expend all our options,” Harris said.
But supporters of further negotiations with BNSF said they hadn’t given up.
Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, introduced a bill at the Legislature this week that would further tax railroad property in Minnesota. Calling Bottineau’s route the “working people’s corridor,” Rest said the measure might nudge the railroad back to the bargaining table.
In the meantime, future meetings of the advisory committee will begin plotting a new course for Bottineau.
Janet Moore • 612-673-7752 @ByJanetMoore