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BNSF Backs Out Of Blue Line Extension, Leaving Project In Limbo

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- A long-planned light rail line from Minneapolis to the northern suburbs has hit a big road block after the $1.5 billion blue line project lost a major partner.

It's called the Bottineau Blue Line. It would start in downtown Minneapolis and run to the quickly growing northern suburbs.

The Blue Line extension runs through the northern suburbs of Robbinsdale, New Hope, Golden Valley, Crystal, and Brooklyn Center, ending near the Target Corproation north campus in Brooklyn Park.

blue line extension
(credit: CBS)

It's a region the Met Council predicts will have sharp job growth.

"It's critical," Met Council chair Alene Tchourumoff said. "It's the backbone of our economy -- our ability to move people and things efficently and effectively."

But there's a problem: The project would share eight of its 13-mile route with BNSF Railroad, and the two sides need to agree on how to fit passenger and freight trains side by side in the same corridor.

Now, BNSF says the project has too many downsides to continue.

Republican House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson says Blue Line planners "messed up" the route selection, putting in jeopardy the entire project. And he questions the future of light rail itself.

"The future of the line is uncertain," he said. "I really question whether it's worth the money. These lines are expensive -- extremely expensive -- and I do question whether it is the appropriate use of funds, both federal and state."

But supporters say the project is critical to Minnesota's economy, where the metro population will grow by 700,000 over the next 20 years.

"We need to be strategic and think about how we are going to move those folks not only today, but in the future," Tchourumoff said.

Light rail supporters are frustrated with the slow pace of construction. Despite widespread support among northern mayors, the blue line extension is still years away.

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