A Tangled Web

The process of approving and constructing light rail is very complicated and involves agencies at the local, county, state and federal level. Input from citizens is fairly limited.  Knowing at which level to be involved in is difficult, but having more information will be the first step towards affecting change and protecting Minneapolis parks.

From the Bottineau Transitway website FAQs page:

Is the process for the development of the Bottineau Transitway as complex as it has been presented by Hennepin County?

Transitway project development is complicated because several processes overlap: environmental review, alternatives analysis, and New Starts evaluation. These processes are largely independent of one another, but inter-related in important ways. Given the cost and significance of a potential Bottineau Transitway, it is important that the region analyzes the project through the environmental review, alternatives analysis, and New Starts processes.
Environmental review is being conducted by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA), and the Metropolitan Council in accordance with federal and state regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (Draft EIS) is being prepared for the Bottineau Transitway. The Draft EIS process requires a detailed assessment of a broad range of significant social, economic, and environmental impacts anticipated as a result of alterations to the natural and built environment, such as those proposed for the Bottineau Transitway. The Draft EIS process starts with Scoping and concludes with identification of a preferred alternative, which are discussed more below.

Alternatives analysis is being led by the HCRRA in accordance with regional transportation policies as well as Federal Transit Administration (FTA) guidance. The goal of this process is to assemble the information and public input needed to support the recommendation of a locally preferred alternative (LPA) for the Bottineau Transitway for adoption by the Metropolitan Council into the region’s long-range transportation plan, the Transportation Policy Plan (TPP).  Consensus among land use authorities and local decision-makers, as expressed through city council and regional railroad authority resolutions, is a crucial factor considered by Metropolitan Council in the adoption of an LPA into the TPP. Public input is an important factor considered by local decision-makers and the Metropolitan Council.

The New Starts Program is the federal capital funding program for major transit projects like the Bottineau Transitway.  The region is considering applying for funding through the FTA’s New Starts Program to build the Bottineau Transitway.  The New Starts Program has several evaluation criteria and the Bottineau Transitway needs to score well in all of them to be considered for New Starts Program funding. The Bottineau Transitway is competing with similar projects around the country for this limited federal funding.

Here is a list of organizations that are involved in approving the new light rail lines through Minneapolis.

Hennepin County Board (one commissioner is elected from each district)

Counties Transit Improvement Board (The Counties Transit Improvement Board formed in 2008 as a result of legislation passed by the Minnesota Legislature. There are five member counties – Anoka, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington –that have access to a budget from a quarter-cent sales tax and $20 a motor vehicle sales tax, permitted by the Legislature, to invest in and advance transit projects by awarding annual capital and operating grants. The Board works in collaboration with the Metropolitan Council and Carver and Scott counties.)

Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (HCRRA) (The Hennepin County Board is the HCRRA, and meet as the authority.)

Metropolitan Council (There are 17 members representing a seven county area of Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott, and Washington counties, all appointed by the governor. The Met Council has an annual budget of $800 million dollars. They manage Metro Transit, wastewater treatment, and parks and trails, affordable housing, and other projects. They are funded by state and federal funds, property taxes and regional taxes, and also generate revenue from transit and wastewater treatment charges.)

The authority of the Metropolitan Council seems the most disturbing fact to have emerged in my investigations of the light rail transit projects. They are an un-elected board with absolutely no accountability to the public.

Transportation Advisory Board (TAB)

Minneapolis Parks & Recreation Board The role that Minneapolis Parks & Rec Board has is still unclear to me. I believe they have no authority over this decision at all. The Grand Rounds was designated a National Scenic Byway by the Federal Highway Administration, but they also have no authority regarding its use.

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) The Federal Transit Administration will ultimately approve funding for the project through the New Starts program.

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