The northbound light rail travels along Hiawatha towards downtown Minneapolis in May 2014. Credit: Caroline Yang | MPR News 2014

Budgets are moral documents. They set the course to carry our state forward. How and where we prioritize spending demonstrates our commitment to creating opportunities for people to grow and contribute to our communities. Projects like light rail can change what’s possible for so many of our neighbors—connecting students to education, patients to healthcare, families to services, and workers to jobs.

The Blue Line Extension Light Rail will bring transformational benefits to residents from Minneapolis northwest to Brooklyn Park. The communities served by this line are transit-reliant, racially diverse, and historically disinvested. The Blue Line Extension is an opportunity to connect them to the broader transit network while providing sustainable transportation options. It can ignite economic development for small businesses and build wealth for working families.

On March 11, Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council released new potential route options that serve as the next step in community engagement, which represents incredible momentum in moving the project forward. 

On March 18, Governor Tim Walz released a shocking new budget proposal supported by the Metropolitan Council that put the future of the Blue Line in jeopardy. The governor’s  budget proposal created a new condition for his support of transit infrastructure projects, which marked a huge shift in transit funding policy. Instead of partnering to build out the transit system, the Governor and the Met Council would require counties to pay the operation and capital maintenance costs of the existing light rail lines and all future lines, even though we do not own, do not operate, and cannot make decisions about them. Hennepin County cannot afford to pay these costs and other counties are in the same position: The governor’s proposal would negatively impact both transit projects in the metro and passenger rail projects in greater Minnesota. Instead of passing these costs onto local governments, the governor should propose new revenue for our statewide and regional transportation systems.

Thankfully, on April 6, the governor and Met Council publicly reversed their position on the proposed budget language. In a letter to Senator Scott Newman, chair of the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, Chair Charles Zelle of the Metropolitan Council, said, “we retract our amended language in the governor’s revised budget and we oppose the Senate provisions in this bill.”While Hennepin County is happy that the administration has reversed its position, the proposed language still exists in the Senate bill. We call on the governor and the Met Council to ensure it is removed from the Senate bill and does not become law. They must do everything they can to make sure the Blue Line Extension project moves forward to serve tens of thousands of the most transit-reliant, racially diverse, and economically diverse residents in Hennepin County. The residents, community groups, businesses, and local elected officials along the corridor have the momentum, and we will not be deterred. We have been waiting for too long and have seen too many setbacks. Now is the time for the governor to actively advance this project and address historic racial and economic inequities. Now is the time to truly support the Blue Line Extension and transit projects across Minnesota.

Irene Fernando is the Hennepin County commissioner for District 2 and is chair of the Hennepin Regional Railroad Authority. She was elected as one of the first women of color to serve on the Hennepin County...

Jeff Lunde, Hennepin County commissioner for District 1, was mayor of Brooklyn Park for 10 years.As mayor, he was the founder of the Blue Line Now Coalition, a group of cities who are leading efforts...