Feds approve engineering of Bottineau light rail

Blue Line extension on track to begin construction in 2018

The Federal Transit Administration granted approval Thursday for the $1.5-billion Bottineau Light Rail Transit project to enter into the engineering phase, one of the final steps before construction is anticipated to begin in 2018.

The 13-mile extension of the Metro Blue Line adds 11 stations and creates a rail link between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park. Under the project’s current schedule, trains will begin carrying passengers on the new tracks in 2021.

“We have a strong reputation nationally for successfully delivering on transit projects,” Metropolitan Council Chair Adam Duininck said in a statement.

Bottineau is one of two light rail projects the Met Council is managing at the same time.

The $1.86-billion Southwest Light Rail Transit project entered the engineering phase late last year. The state’s largest-ever transportation project is a 14.5-mile extension of the Metro Green Line will add tracks between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

Although Southwest Light Rail Transit is in the midst of a lawsuit alleging a flawed environmental review process, Met Council plans to apply for a federal grant that will cover half of the project’s total cost sometime this year. That was only possible after Duininck and Gov. Mark Dayton in August negotiated a plan that involves the Met Council, Hennepin County and the Counties Transit Improvement Board filling in the missing portion of local project funding that was supposed to come from the state.

The state originally had a 10-percent share of the funding pie for SWLRT, but Republicans in the state legislature stood in the way of adding anything more to the $30.3 million in state funds already committed to the project.

An application for federal funding of the Blue Line extension is also expected to go to the FTA this year, but Met Council once again needs to secure the final 10 percent of the local funding commitments before it can move on to that step. Just $1 million in state funds are so far committed to the Blue Line extension, according to Met Council.