BLC statement: “Whatever the route, community must guide the direction of Bottineau Blue Line project”

(Photo: Organizational leaders from the Blue Line Coalition)

Statement from the Blue Line Coalition in response to Hennepin County and Met Council abandoning route for Bottineau Blue Line light rail. 

For generations, transportation planning has been an insidious tool of systemic racism. Highway projects have decimated Black business districts to spare white neighborhoods. Transit projects have skipped over communities of color to whisk white commuters to downtown job centers.

So, in 2013, when the planning around the METRO Blue Line Extension began, we were ready. The creation of the Blue Line Coalition brought together powerful organizations with deep connections to and trust within the immigrant, low-wealth and Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities to ensure that those most impacted by this massive infrastructure investment had a strong voice in the process.

Last week, like so many others, we were frustrated by the announcement to abandon negotiations with BNSF Railway on the route that has been in development for nearly a decade. But we believe the time to move forward is now — and that movement must center the voices and needs of immigrant and BIPOC communities who have been bypassed or bulldozed by transportation projects in the past.

For years, we have played a key partnership role in the Blue Line extension project. We have provided countless hours of assistance to Hennepin County staff and corridor cities to incorporate equity into engagement practices, branding materials, and station area planning. We have educated consultants and consulted on marketing strategies. We have worked with the public and private sector to guide their use of the BLC Equitable Development Scorecard, which provides a template for investment that elevates rather than excludes our communities. We have shared proven and actionable policy ideas to ensure development without displacement in our Housing Policy Platform.

Along with elected leaders in the corridor cities, we feel have a very strong preference for this project must to proceed as light rail. If a new route is necessary, the start and end points must remain the same to connect our communities and keep our place in line for federal funding. But, more than an allegiance to any one alignment, we are dedicated to advancing critical transit options that are the backbone of racial and regional equity.

While we are disappointed, we are not disheartened. We know our voices have shifted the narrative and our efforts have set a clear course for equitable engagement. Through all the uncertainty and delays, the BLC has been onboard, cultivating community input and buy-in that can lay the tracks for whatever comes next.

As evidenced in our recent letter of support with elected officials in corridor cities, we are no longer alone in naming transportation inequities as systemic racism. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the devastating impact of COVID-19 in communities of color, Hennepin County and Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle have also pledged their commitment to racial equity. As we so often hear in the streets: Justice delayed is justice denied. Now is the time for action.

Like the highways that tore through our neighborhoods, this project will impact generations to come. The decisions about the Blue Line extension will intentionally ignore or actively create the critical transit connections necessary for the success and vitality of our immigrant and BIPOC communities. With our communities at the center, we can — and must — transform transportation planning into a tool for inclusion and equity.

On August 12, the Blue Line Coalition sent a set of recommendations regarding the alignment and construction of the Blue Line extension project to key policy leaders. Read the letter or download the PDF here.