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Under review, April 2014

Resources on Minnesota Issues
Light Rail & Commuter Transit

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to Minnesota legislators. It is designed to provide an introduction to the topic, directing the user to a variety of sources, and is not intended to be exhaustive.

With the opening of the light rail transit (LRT) Central Corridor (Green Line) in June 2014, the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis will be linked by rail transit for the first time since Twin City Rapid Transit (TCRT) street car lines met their demise in the 1950s. The new Green Line is the first expansion of the area's light rail system since the opening of the Hiawatha (Blue Line) in 2004. The two lines connect in downtown Minneapolis.

The Twin Cities' LRT system has been a work in progress for years, its roots stretching back to the 1970s when heavy rail and "downtown people movers" were studied as transit options. By the early 1980s, LRT had moved to the forefront of transit planning. The 1980s and 1990s were filled with LRT studies, evaluations, and planning efforts. On January 17, 2001, ground was broken for the region's first LRT line along Hiawatha Avenue, connecting downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, and the Mall of America in Bloomington.

The next expansion of the region's rail transit system occurred in late 2009 with the opening of the Northstar Corridor, a 40-mile commuter rail line running from the Big Lake area south to downtown Minneapolis.

Even as the Central Corridor Green Line opens, planning is well underway for a light rail line that would serve areas south and west of downtown Minneapolis. The proposed Southwest Corridor would connect with the Hiawatha Blue Line near Target Field in downtown Minneapolis and extend to Eden Prairie. Planning has also begun for the Bottineau LRT line. A draft environmental impact study was released in March 2014 for the proposed project that would stretch from downtown Minneapolis through the northwest suburbs.

Light Rail and Commuter Transit Chronology

1975: Minnesota Legislature prohibits the Metropolitan Transit Commission from using transit tax levies for any preliminary work on an automated fixed guideway system. (Laws of Minnesota 1975, chapter 13, section 71(d))

1980: Minnesota Legislature directs the Metropolitan Council to conduct a feasibility study of light rail transit in the metropolitan area. (Laws of Minnesota 1980, chapter 607, article 13, section 3)

1984: Minnesota Legislature creates Regional Transit Board. (Laws of Minnesota 1984, chapter 654, article 3, section 116)

1985: Minnesota Legislature prohibits any expenditure of public funds on light rail transit. (Laws of Minnesota 1Sp 1985, chapter 10, section 105)

1987: Minnesota Legislature removes the 1985 prohibition by giving any regional rail authority the ability to study, plan, or design a light rail transit system. (Laws of Minnesota 1987, chapter 405, section 4) In addition, the Metropolitan Council is allowed to cooperate with the regional rail authorities in light rail transit planning. (Laws of Minnesota 1987, chapter 405, section 3)

1988: Minnesota Legislature appropriates $4.17 million (if matched with dollar for dollar amounts from other funding sources) for regional railroad authorities to plan, design and construct light rail transit facilities. (Laws of Minnesota 1988, chapter 684, article 2, section 2)

1989: Minnesota Legislature requires the Regional Transit Board to adopt a regional light rail plan. (Laws of Minnesota 1989, chapter 339, section 12)

Minnesota Legislature creates the Joint Light Rail Transit Advisory Committee to assist the Regional Transit Board in LRT planning. (Laws of Minnesota 1989, chapter 339, section 13)

1991: Minnesota Legislature creates the Light Rail Transit Joint Powers Board. (Laws of Minnesota 1991, chapter 298, article 7, section 8)

1993: Minnesota Legislature establishes the Corridor Management Committee (Laws of Minnesota 1993, chapter 353, section 12)

1994: Minnesota Legislature abolishes the Regional Transit Board. All duties and responsibilities are transferred to the Metropolitan Council. (Laws of Minnesota 1994, chapter 628, article 2, section 4)

1997: Minnesota Legislature authorizes the study of the potential of using freight rail corridors in the metropolitan area for commuter rail service. (Laws of Minnesota 1997, chapter 159, article 2, section 51)

1998: Minnesota Legislature appropriates $40 million for a light rail transit system for the Hiawatha Corridor. Another $6.5 million is appropriated for LRT study, design and engineering work of other corridors. (Laws of Minnesota 1998, chapter 404, section 17) On May 22, 1998, Congress passes a transportation bill which allots $120 million for the Hiawatha Corridor light rail transit project. Congress also authorizes an additional $6 million for rail transit work on the North Star Corridor (Minneapolis to St. Cloud through Anoka).

1999: Minnesota Legislature appropriates $60 million for construction of the Hiawatha Corridor LRT line. (Laws of Minnesota 1999, chapter 240, article 1, section 9, subdivision 5) This funding makes Minnesota eligible to receive matching federal funds for the project.

2000: Laws of Minnesota 2000, chapter 479, article 1, section 24, subdivision 4 gives the Metropolitan Council the right to sell or lease naming rights to light rail transit stations and to apply revenues from sales or leases to light rail transit operating costs.

June 2000 - September 2000: Design-build contractor and vehicle manufacturer selection process for Hiawatha Corridor.

October 1, 2000: Hiawatha Corridor construction begins.

October 2002: First Hiawatha Corridor vehicle delivered.

2004: Hiawatha Corridor LRT service begins Saturday, June 26, 2004.

2005: Minnesota Legislature approves $37.5 million for the Northstar Corridor in the 2005 bonding bill. (Laws of Minnesota 2005, chapter 20, article 1) In June of 2005, the United States Congress approves $80 million for the Northstar Corridor in the federal transportation bill.

2006: Minnesota Legislature approves $60 million for the Northstar Corridor in the 2006 capital improvement bonding bill. (Laws of Minnesota 2006, chapter 258, section 16, subdivision 4)

2006: The Metropolitan Council begins planning for a Central Corridor Light Rail transit line. This rail line will connect downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul along University Avenue.

December 11, 2007: The Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) for Northstar Commuter Rail is signed by state and federal officials. This agreement allots $156.8 million in federal funds and $97.5 million in state funds to the project.

April 7, 2008: Governor Pawlenty vetoes the $70 million allotted for the Central Corridor project in the 2008 bonding bill. (Laws of Minnesota 2008, chapter 179, section 17, subd. 5) However, in May 2008, the $70 million is restored in a supplementary bonding package. (Laws of Minnesota 2008, chapter 365, section 4)

Summer 2009: Five year anniversary of the Hiawatha Line. Ridership is 20 percent ahead of what ridership was expected to be in 2020. A plan to buy more train cars to accommodate increased ridership requires the expansion of 10 LRT stations.

August 18, 2009 The Federal Transit Administration issues the Central Corridor LRT Record of Decision clearing the way for the project to proceed.

Hiawatha Avenue Corridor Funding

From the Metropolitan Council's Overview of the Hiawatha Light Rail Line.

  • Cost: $675.4 million (in 2002 dollars).
  • Federal........................................................................$334.3 million
  • State of Minnesota........................................................$100.0 million
  • Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority..........................$87.0 million
  • Metropolitan Airports Commission....................................$84.2 million
  • Federal Grant for Congestion Mitigation & Air Quality.........$49.8 million
  • MnDOT..........................................................................$20.1 million

Proposed and Existing Corridors

Various rail corridors have been proposed throughout the years. The following is a list of proposed and existing corridors and, where appropriate, Library catalog searches for relevant corridor studies. This list is not comprehensive and the Library catalog should be checked for additional reports.

Significant Books and Reports

(See also PROPOSED CORRIDORS for additional reports.)

Central Corridor Light Rail Transit Project: Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Saint Paul: Metropolitan Council, 2008. (TD194.56.M6 C466 2008)

Commuter Rail System Plan: Moving Minnesota, Part of the Moving Minnesota Strategy. St. Paul: Minnesota Department of Transportation, 2000. (HE2781.T9T952 2000)

Diers, John W. Twin Cities by Trolley: The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. (TF725.M6 D54 2007)

Economic Development Potential Around Proposed Central Corridor LRT Stations. St. Paul: Metropolitan Council, 1995. (HE4491.M62 E36 1995)

Hiawatha Corridor Light Rail Fact Book. Roseville, MN: Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Division, Office of Rail Transit; St. Paul: Metropolitan Council, 2000. (HE4491.T92 H53 2000)

Hiawatha Light Rail Corridor Financial Report to the Minnesota Legislature. St. Paul: Metropolitan Council, 2000. (HE4491.T92 H54 2000) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 1999, chapter 240, article 1, section 9)

Light Rail Transit: The Regional Transit Board's Proposal to the 1991 Minnesota Legislature. Prepared by Transit Task Force, Community Information Committee. Minneapolis: Citizens League, 1991. (HE4491.T92 L54 1991)

Light Rail Transit Feasibility in the Hiawatha Avenue Corridor. Prepared by Bather-Ringrose-Wolsfeld-Jarvis-Gardner, Inc. St. Paul: Metropolitan Council, 1981. (HE4491.T95 L53x) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 1980, chapter 607, article 13, section 3)

Light Rail Transit Feasibility Study: Final Report. Prepared by Sanders and Thomas, Inc. in association with Midwest Research Institute, COMSIS Corporation. St. Paul: Metropolitan Council, 1981. (HE4491.T95 L54x) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 1980, chapter 607, article 13, section 3) (Report includes a technical supplement and a summary.)

Major Constituency Positions on Light Rail Transit and Tunnel Alignment Hub in Downtown Minneapolis: Testimony Prepared for Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson. 1995. (HE4491.M62 M35 1995)

Schmidt, Andrew J. Minnesota Statewide Historic Railroads Study Project Report - Final. St. Paul: Minnesota Dept. of Transportation, 2007. (HE2771.M6 S352 2007)

Schmidt, Andrew J. Railroads in Minnesota, 1862-1956. [Minnesota : s.n., 2007?]. (HE2771.M6 S35 2007)

Shaping Our Future: The Facts About Light Rail Transit. St. Paul: Regional Transit Board, 1991. (HE4491.T92 S53 1991)

Twin Cities Metropolitan Commuter Rail Study: Phase I Summary Report. Seattle: Parsons Brinckerhoff, 1998. (HE2781.T9 T95 1998) (Required by Laws of Minnesota 1997, chapter 159, article 2, section 51) (Report includes an Executive Summary, Appendix A: Rail Corridor Assessment Report, Appendix B: Environmental and Land Use Summary Report, and Appendix C: Institutional Issues Summary Report.)

Significant Articles

Kersten, Katherine. "There is no Renaissance in U.S. Public-transit Use." MinnPost, April 9, 2014.

McClure, Jane. "Central Corridor Process and the Players". (Three Part Series on the Central Corridor) Twin Cities Daily Planet, March 27, 2007.

"Let the Trains Begin." (A Star Tribune Rider's Guide) Star Tribune, June 23, 2004. (Vertical File M50.15A)

Stassen-Berger, Rachel E. "Light Rail Nears Crucial Crossing." (Includes: "Roundup of Light-Rail Lawsuits".) St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 2, 2001.

"Rail Planners Vow to Keep Lid on Costs, But Some Observers Foresee Overruns." (Five Part Series on the Hiawatha Line: Light Rail on Track) Star Tribune, January 17, 2001.

Blake, Laurie. "Improve Transportation? Most Say Go For It - Poll Respondents From Outstate Minnesota and the Twin Cities Area Voiced Similar Levels of Support for Spending to Improve Roads and Transit" (Minnesota Poll) Star Tribune, March 12, 2000.

Blake, Laurie. "Crunch Time for Light Rail: Minnesota's Window of Opportunity to Snag Federal Money is Closing, But Not All Legislators Think the Price is Worth It." Star Tribune, May 2, 1999.

Blake, Laurie. "Public Still Favors State Aid for Light Rail." (Minnesota Poll) Star Tribune, May 2, 1999.

Stassen-Berger, Rachel E. "Twin Cities Light Rail Feels Closer to Reality." (Includes: Timeline.) St. Paul Pioneer Press, October 25, 1998.

Dornfield, Steven. "LRT: Back to the Future?" (Five Part Series) St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 26-March 3, 1995.

Additional Library Resources

For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:
M50.15A (Metropolitan Transit - Light Rail Transit)

For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use these Library catalog searches:
Light Rail (Minnesota);

Groups Involved with Light Rail & Commuter Transit

Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, 645 State Office Building, Saint Paul, MN  55155