Receipt of grant keeps project on schedule to move ahead with next phase of construction
Today, the Metropolitan Council executed a grant with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the final step of securing all federal funding for the METRO Orange Line project. The FTA announced in November 2018 it would be allocating the funding for the project, and has since then developed, reviewed, and approved the grant awarded today.
“This is an exciting day for the future of our region,” said Governor Tim Walz. “Connecting our communities with reliable and accessible public transportation like the METRO Orange Line builds economic opportunity and increases mobility for tens of thousands of Minnesotans. The incredible collaboration between local partners at the city and county level, state agencies, and now the federal government make projects like this possible.”
The $74.1 million federal grant means the project has all funding in-hand to complete construction on the $150.7 million project. Construction began in 2017 after the FTA issued a Letter of No Prejudice (LONP) approval for the joint MnDOT construction, ahead of the full federal funding commitment. This process is the same process the Southwest LRT project is using as it begins construction, ahead of receiving the full federal funding commitment.
“Our regional prosperity depends on advancing our transit system,” said Met Council Chair Nora Slawik. “Transit improves mobility, provides opportunities, and increases our economic competitiveness. Projects like the Orange Line not only connect Minnesotans to jobs, but also create them. Thank you to the FTA for their continued partnership and commitment to advancing more efficient, cleaner transportation options in our region.”
The Orange Line will provide access to 198,000 jobs and 121,000 residents, including 56,000 jobs outside of downtown Minneapolis, including major corridor employers like Best Buy, HealthPartners, Allina, Wells Fargo, and Toro. Crews will break ground on the next phase of construction this summer, along Knox Avenue in Richfield and Bloomington.
As part of the METRO system, the Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a 17-mile transitway connecting Minneapolis, Richfield, Bloomington, and Burnsville along I-35W, providing frequent, all-day service in both directions, seven days a week. In addition to the federal funding, local funding is provided by the former Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), the State of Minnesota, the Metropolitan Council, and Hennepin and Dakota counties and their railroad authorities.
“The METRO Orange Line is another great example of how transit investments strengthen the fabric and resilience of local communities and economies. This new line will connect more people directly to major employers and hopping destinations like the Lake Street business corridor and the Midtown Greenway. Strategic investments like this create opportunities for our residents and keep our region moving forward. Thank you to federal, regional and local partners who helped make this happen,” said Hennepin County Board of Commissioners Chair Marion Greene.
“We’re excited federal funds have been released for the METRO Orange Line,” Dakota County Board Chair Liz Workman said. “This completes significant efforts by federal, state, regional and local partners to move this important transit project forward. The Orange Line adds a whole new level of service and more flexibility for transit riders in the most heavily traveled commuter corridor in the region.”
The METRO Orange Line BRT project includes street and highway improvements, upgraded transit stations, and improved bus routes. It also includes a transit-only access ramp between downtown Minneapolis and I-35W and a new Lake Street Station, which is part of the work already under construction. The project is scheduled to open in 2021. A future extension of the Orange Line to Lakeville is also envisioned in future years.
“Minneapolis deserves a fully connected transit system Minneapolis deserves – one where every neighborhood has complete access and our city is linked to our greater region,” said Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. “The Orange Line takes one big step towards that inclusive vision.”
“The addition of the Orange Line BRT will be a boon to the Richfield transportation system,” remarked Richfield Mayor Maria Regan Gonzalez. “Richfield residents want options to get them to work and play. Adding a fast and frequent service, such as the Orange Line BRT will only improve residents’ quality of life.”
“In Bloomington’s Penn American and Gateway Districts, Orange Line stations and supporting bus networks will provide the high level of transit service necessary to achieve the City’s vision of walkable, higher-density, mixed-use neighborhoods,” Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead said. “The Orange Line will benefit the entire region and we anticipate that it will also help stimulate significant new development in our community.”
“The Orange Line is extremely important to Burnsville and our neighboring communities, and we are so excited to see the project move forward,” said Burnsville Mayor Elizabeth Kautz. “Enhanced mobility, ease of travel, and more frequent service to and from downtown is necessary to spur economic growth south of the river. The Orange Line will not only make it easier and more convenient to bring employees and visitors into our communities, but it will also augment the excellent express service already provided by our partners at the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority to downtown Minneapolis.”
The Small Starts Grant Agreement (SSGA) is provided as part of the FTA’s Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program, which is a discretionary grant program which funds transit capital investments, including heavy rail, commuter rail, light rail, streetcars, and bus rapid transit. Federal transit law requires transit agencies seeking CIG funding to complete a series of steps over several years. There are two types of projects: New Starts projects, which are typically larger projects like light rail and Small Starts, which are small projects like bus rapid transit. The Council has several other projects which have been accepted into the CIG program, including two New Starts projects (SWLRT and Bottineau LRT) and one Small Starts project (Gold Line BRT).