The Blue Line train runs from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America. A long planned extension would connect the line to north Minneapolis and some northwest suburbs. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

An advisory committee to the Metropolitan Council voted Thursday to recommend a route for the Blue Line train that would travel through neighborhoods in north Minneapolis, Crystal, Robbinsdale, and Brooklyn Park. 

Thursday’s vote from the Metropolitan Council Blue Line Light Rail Extension advisory committee is a major step forward, because it allows planning staff from the Met Council and Hennepin County to move forward with the project’s next steps. 

The committee, which met at 1:30 p.m., is composed of 19 voting members and four non-voting members representing different county, city, and other local government departments. Fourteen members voted to approve the route. Committee member Jim Adams, the mayor of Crystal, voted against the route, noting that residents of his city would have to access the train by car due to poor public transportation in the city, and that the Met Council needs to examine safety and traffic concerns more closely. 

The other voting members were not present.

The Met Council is looking at extending the Blue Line from its stop at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park. The route currently runs from downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America.

A map of the proposed Blue Line project, which would extend the train line from downtown Minneapolis through north Minneapolis and into the northwest suburbs. Credit: Blue Line Extension Project

“I resoundingly support of continuing the process, and I wanted to commend staff for writing this in a way that both narrows scope, but also creates space for inclusions so that people can feel confident as we proceed with this next stage,” said Irene Fernando, who is a committee member and chair of Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.* 

More than a dozen community organizations demonstrated outside a committee meeting in May, asking leaders to adopt recommendations in a report that outlined ways to avoid displacing immigrant communities and communities of color along the extended route. The Blue Line Extension advisory committee voted in favor of the report at a June meeting.

Some residents have already experienced displacement along the current Blue Line route, according to the report. C. Terrance Anderson, director of community-based research at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, presented the report’s findings and 17 policy recommendations to the committee in May. 

Denise Butler, a voting member of the Met Council committee, said she was comfortable with the proposed route’s section in Brooklyn Park. Butler represents the Blue Line Coalition, a group of community-based organizations that promote anti-displacement efforts on the route.

“I feel like the residents of Brooklyn Park, the city staff–we’re all comfortable with what we’re getting so far,” she said in an interview with Sahan Journal. “And that’s the stance that we have right now.” 

Butler added that advocates, including herself, want a Bus Rapid Transit station to connect Brooklyn Park with Brooklyn Center. Butler is also the associate director of the African Career, Education and Resource, Inc., an organization that works with African immigrants in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis. 

The committee’s vote Thursday allows the project’s planning staff to conduct an environmental assessment along the route. After the assessment, the project’s planning staff will do more research to refine the route before presenting it to each city affected by the Blue Line extension, the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, and the Met Council for final approval. 

The final votes will most likely occur next summer over a couple of months, according to planning staff. 

An advisory committee to the Metropolitan Council voted on September 14, 2023, to recommend a route for the Blue Line extension through north Minneapolis and nearby suburbs. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

Hennepin County Director of Transit and Mobility Daniel Soler, who has worked on the Blue Line Extension project for nearly eight years, said the Met Council can only move forward with one route at this stage.

“We can’t take four different routes through this detailed environmental process,” Soler said in an interview with the Sahan Journal. “We wanna take one, and so we’ll take this recommended route through that, and depending on what we find, it’ll either stay where it is, or it’ll have minor modifications to move it [the recommended route] around, as we move forward.”

Although the recommended route is approved, changes can still be made, Soler said at Thursday’s meeting. 

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey sits on the advisory committee and voted to recommend the route. Frey said that before Minneapolis approves the final vote, he wants to explore options for the proposed location of the Lowry Avenue station, alternatives to the train crossing Interstate 94, and ways to avoid displacing residents. 

More than a dozen community groups spoke out on May 11, 2023, urging Metropolitan Council leaders to adopt recommendations to avoid displacing people when the Blue Line extends into north Minneapolis and nearby suburbs. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Developing the recommended route 

The route has undergone multiple iterations, Soler said before Thursday’s meeting. 

In August 2020, the Met Council voted to change the route from aligning with a railroad to installing the route on county roads. Residents and business owners were invited to community engagement sessions throughout the years to provide feedback on the route designs. 

“I think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of people were rightfully critical of the previous alignment in the rail corridor, because it did not really serve the heart of North Minneapolis, where there are high numbers of people who rely on transit every day to get where they need to go,” said Kyle Mianulli, Hennepin County’s communications manager. 

The proposed route travels from Target Field and runs along streets such as Plymouth Avenue, Lyndale Avenue, Lowry Avenue, Bass Lake Road, Brooklyn Boulevard, 93rd Avenue. Soler said constructing the Blue Line train on the street level is beneficial because there are fewer obstacles such as bridges and tunnels. 

But properties and businesses will be more directly impacted by the Blue Line train, he added. Soler said authorities have learned from the work it took to build the current portion of the Blue Line and the Green Line, which runs from downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul.

“We’ll use the lessons we’ve learned about building light rail on University Avenue, and in the downtowns, to help us work with how we do this, in, around, on top of, and right adjacent to businesses,” he said. “It also allows us to build stations, though right where the need is.” 

Moving forward with a recommended route will help business owners and residents who are concerned about displacement, he said, because they can now picture where the route will be located in proximity to their locations. 

“We’re not trying to build anything in a vacuum. We’re very open,” he said. “We will continue to have constant and regular meetings with property owners and public engagement.”

How anti-displacement efforts fits into the route 

Hennepin County’s Senior Department Administrator Cathy Gold said her team is working on incorporating the recommendations from the anti-displacement report. Those anti-displacement plans will be provided to city leaders before they vote on the final route. 

The Blue Line Coalition, a group of community-based organizations that promote anti-displacement efforts on the project, is developing the “People’s Plan” that focuses on priorities from communities facing potential displacement, said Ricardo Perez, a coalition organizer. 

“For me, the biggest takeaway is that, if we fight, we get heard,” Perez said. “And we have to fight to make sure that anti-displacement is not only a good idea, but it’s actually the foundation in how this train can become a reality and a benefit for our community.” 

Ricardo Perez, an organizer with the Blue Line Coalition, a group of community organizations that promotes anti-displacement efforts on the Blue Line extension project, attends a meeting about the project on September 14, 2023. Credit: Dymanh Chhoun | Sahan Journal

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the organization Irene Fernando chairs.

Katelyn Vue is the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. She graduated in May 2022 from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Prior to joining Sahan Journal, she was a metro reporting intern at the Star...