Another $1.5 Billion Train Moves Forward Despite Funding Questions

The $1.5 billion Bottineau Blue Line light rail project secured approval from the federal government to move into its engineering phase, reports the Star Tribune.

The proposed line is 13 miles long and would connect Target Field and downtown Minneapolis with Brooklyn Park. The train would also run through north Minneapolis, Golden Valley, Robbinsdale, and Crystal, with a targeted opening date of 2021.

Thursday’s approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) allows the Metropolitan Council to proceed with engineering work to prepare for the beginning of construction in 2018.

“Our region has a strong reputation nationally for successfully delivering on transit projects,” Adam Duininck, Met Council chairman, said in a statement to the Star Tribune.

Met Council officials estimate that the construction of the Bottineau Line would create 6,500 construction jobs. The total estimated cost of those workers payrolls is roughly $300 million.

A new, bigger hurdle may arise in the rail’s construction though. While the FTA is expected to pay for roughly 49 percent of the project once local funding is secured, the remaining 51 percent is far from certain.

The costs of the project not covered by the federal government is likely to be paid by a combination of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority.

The problem is the CTIB might not exist in short order, as it is considering eliminating itself. As a result of that dissolution could lead to a higher transit tax for Hennepin County residents. It currently sits at a quarter of a cent, but may go higher in response to Republican lawmakers deemphasizing mass transit spending in favor of road repairs.

The FTA’s signing off on the Bottineau Line comes roughly one month after it signed off on the similar Southwest Light Rail Transit line, reports Finance & Commerce. That line will run 14.5 miles at an estimated cost of $1.86 billion and connects Eden Prairie to Minneapolis.

Anders Koskinen