Category Archives: LRT

Crystal Pedestrian Bridge Update

Last week, the Blue Line Corridor Management Committee (CMC), which is the committee that oversees the Blue Line Light Rail Project, voted to remove the pedestrian bridge over Highway 81 from the scope of the Blue Line project.  The Sun Post’s write-up of the decision is here.

What this means is that, barring a sudden turn of events or reversal of the decision, there will not be a pedestrian bridge built to facilitate safe crossing of highway 81.

This is a disappointing, unacceptable and egregious decision, but one that was not entirely unpredictable.

If you’d like the details on what happened, read on. If you just want to know what you can do about it, skip to the end.

The History

In late 2015 and early 2016 Hennepin County sponsored a few “Station Area Planning” meetings at the Rockford Road Library. Those meetings were well attended by residents of Crystal.  The feedback from those meetings was nearly unanimous that residents felt that a bridge would be necessary for crossing 81 if a new train station would be added to the area.  The existing intersection is not viewed as safe by local residents, and the addition of the train station was expected to increase pedestrian crossings by a significant amount.

On February 11, 2016 I attended a CMC meeting because our representative (Mayor Jim Adams) and our alternate (council member Olga Parsons) were unavailable.  We were readying for the vote on “municipal consent” and the bridge had not been formally added into the scope of the project.  I was seeking, on behalf of Crystal, assurance that the bridge would be included in the scope at a later date.

It was explained that to “officially” add the bridge to the scope of the project would not be feasible, because it would require a delay in the project, but that the resolution passed by CMC was more of a technicality/formality.  We were assured that the bridge would be “formally” added later- in June.

There was unease among Crystal Council Members about taking the CMC/Met Council at their word.  At the February 11 meeting we negotiated language that I felt the city council would accept.  You can see that reflected in the minutes here.

At the February 29 Crystal City Council meeting, the council debated granting municipal consent to the Blue Line project.

Much of the discussion about municipal consent centered around our unease with the items that were not “formally” in scope- the pedestrian bridge, and visual and sound screening along the route.

We ultimately chose not to affirm or deny municipal consent, but rather allow the plans to be “deemed approved” as allowed for in MN law.  You can read a recap of that decision here.  The bottom line is that nobody felt comfortable affirmatively approving plans that were, in our eyes, incomplete.

The resolution we passed was unambiguous about our position on the bridge being a required part of the project, and that Crystal would not be assuming costs for maintenance of the bridge, as it is a part of the project. If LRT were not being built, the bridge would not be necessary.

Over the next few months the Crystal City Council continued working with Metro Transit on options for the pedestrian bridge. We had many design meetings, and even recently took a tour of other pedestrian bridges in the area.

The city council was split, but generally in favor of a bridge design that featured elevators, because of the challenging topography of the area, and the tight fit of the bridge in the area. The Met Council preferred a design with no elevators, which would cost more but be less functional.

A few hours before the July 7 2016 CMC meeting, the Blue Line Project Office (Met Council) made a surprise recommendation that the maintenance and ownership of the bridge would fall on the city, in what appeared to be a negotiation tactic to get Crystal to drop the requirement for elevators.  It worked.

Negotiations continued for a few days, and on July 19, the Blue Line Project Office, representing Metro Transit, and Crystal agreed that the bridge would not include elevators, Metro Transit would own and operate the bridge, and Crystal would be responsible for snow removal.

We had a deal.

Two days later the CMC voted to remove the pedestrian bridge from the scope of the project entirely, and the bridge was killed. Hennepin County Commissioner Mike Opat, who represents the citizens who initially requested the bridge, spoke against it.  The vote was a simple voice vote. There was no roll call.  There will be no record of who voted to kill the bridge. There will be no accountability.

I don’t know any other way to put it- we were played. And we were played by people who are better at this game than we are. So we lost.

The Crystal City Council, and the Crystal City Staff did, in my opinion, everything we could possibly do to fight to represent our residents, but at the end of the day someone else decided we didn’t need a bridge so now we don’t get one.

As I said above, this action was disappointing, unacceptable and egregious, but not unpredictable.

I was always uneasy with being told to just trust that the Met Council, Hennepin County, and the rest of the CMC would keep their word. I always knew this was a likely outcome.  I would have liked to been proven wrong. There’s zero satisfaction in being right.

I hope there is never an instance where someone is hurt or killed while trying to cross 8 lanes of busy traffic as they rush to catch a train. But the CMC and your County Commissioner decided that $7.5 million out of a total project cost of $1.5 billion (roughly 0.5%) was too much, and they would rather risk it.

What Can You Do?

I won’t sugarcoat it. Likely nothing. The City Council and Staff are exploring all potential options, but it’s unlikely that when the full Met Council votes on the scope they will do anything but take the CMC’s recommendation.

You could try contacting Mike Opat, Hennepin County Commissioner at 612-348-7881 or

and let him know that you are unhappy with his support of removing the bridge from the scope. If he were to change his mind and represent the wishes of his constituents, that would likely help.

You could also try contacting your Met Council representative Gail Dorfman at 612.998.5214 or

I should note that Ms. Dorfman is not a CMC member and she didn’t vote on the removal of the bridge. She will get a vote when the full Met Council votes later this year.

What Happened With Municipal Consent

Tonight the Crystal City Council passed a resolution on a 4-2 vote making the choice not to affirmatively grant, nor to pass a resolution to disapprove, “Municipal Consent” on the Blue Line Extension LRT project.

Because that’s the type of sentence that could only exist in the context of government, I’ll do my best to explain what the vote we took tonight means, what it doesn’t mean, and some of the reasoning behind the vote.

In an earlier post I outlined the three options the City Council had in this process:

  1. Approve the plans as presented.
  2. Disapprove the plans, and provide a list of “specific amendments to the plans that, if adopted, would cause [us] to withdraw our disapproval”.
  3. Take no formal action on the plan.  If no formal action is taken, the plans are then deemed approved.

MN Law dictates these options, and also dictates the narrow set of parameters we are allowed to consider when taking this vote.

What We Were Voting On

The Council may only consider the plans that were presented to us, and whether we find those plans acceptable.  We were voting both on what is in the plans, and to a limited extent what is not in the plans.  (Remember this, because it will be important later.)

The council was NOT taking a vote on 1) Whether Light Rail is really neat, 2) Whether Light Rail is really dumb, 3) Whether Light Rail is good for Crystal or 4) anything else.  This is important, and very frequently gets lost in the discussion.

What We Did

We chose option 3- to allow the plans to be deemed approved as presented.  The practical effect of this option is the same as an approval.  The project will be allowed to continue, and our vote did not delay the project nor add any additional taxpayer expense.

The Plans as Presented

We were presented with a set of plans at the beginning of this year – these were the plans that were on display at City Hall and presented at the various public hearings.  For me, the issue was not so much with what was included in these plans, but rather what was not.

Because the project is only at the 15% design phase, several critical items were not included in the plans, among these the Pedestrian Bridge at Bass Lake Road and 81, sound screening south of Bass Lake Road, and visual screening north of Bass Lake Road.  These are all items that were brought up by members of the community in public meetings and during the public hearing.

It is the position of the Met Council’s Project Office that those items were out of scope at this phase of the project, meaning they weren’t going to be part of the plans that we would approve or disapprove.

But here’s the rub- this is the one and only time that the Crystal City Council gets to hold a vote on the design.  We don’t get another vote at a later date.  This is it.

Why Not Disapprove?

The seemingly logical choice would be to issue a resolution of disapproval and add the “missing” design elements to the project scope.  But, that wasn’t a real option, because we are only allowed to consider what’s “in scope” at the 15% mark of the project.  If we would have voted to disapprove based on the 3 items outlined above (pedestrian bridge, visual screening, noise wall), we would not have gained any better reassurance that those items would be added, as the items would very likely be ruled out of scope by the Met Council.  With that reality, the only practical effect of a vote of disapproval would have been to waste a lot of people’s time and drive the cost of the project up needlessly.

Why Not Approve?

So with disapproval off the table as a good option, Approval seems to be a logical position.

But I would ask – how do you vote to approve something when you don’t really approve of it? The unresolved items are critical to this project, and the lack of their inclusion in the plans makes it very hard to take an affirmative vote of approval.

Allow the Plans to be Deemed Approved

So with approval and disapproval eliminated, we get to the third option, which is allowing the plans to be deemed approved.

As outlined in State Law, if a city does not pass a resolution of approval or disapproval within 45 days, the plans are deemed approved as presented.

This option, as imperfect as it is, was the best option available to us.

The council passed a resolution that specifically outlined our concerns with the unresolved elements, but also allowed the process to continue without unnecessary delay or cost.

We didn’t disrupt the process, but we also did not add a phony stamp of approval on a set of incomplete plans.

An Imperfect Process, An Imperfect Outcome

The so-called “municipal consent” process is broken.

Cities are required to take their municipal consent vote prior to having the results of the Environmental Impact Statement.

The process asks for feedback from cities and residents, but does not allow for incorporating their feedback in a meaningful way.

The process is not about the acceptance or rejection of the concept of Light Rail, but you would not know that based on the way the topic is discussed, and the out-sized emphasis placed on the results of this vote.

We were given an imperfect process, and we ended up with an imperfect outcome, but to me the best of the bad options we were given.

UPDATE: I’ve added a scanned copy of the resolution that was passed below.  Click to see the full sized images.

And here’s council member Dahl’s take and the SunPost write up.

Scannable Document on Mar 1, 2016, 2_54_49 PM Scannable Document 2 on Mar 1, 2016, 2_54_49 PM Scannable Document 3 on Mar 1, 2016, 2_54_49 PM

Light Rail Municipal Consent

Later this month the Crystal City Council will take up the topic of “Municipal Consent” for the Blue Line/Bottineau LRT project.  I’d like to discuss what Municipal Consent is, what it means, and what the possible outcomes may be.

Municipal Consent is a process that is required by MN State Law for any LRT projects.  The cities affected by the project are required to hold a public hearing on the plans.  Crystal will be holding our public hearing on February 2, at 7PM in the council chambers.

The city council is given 45 days from the date of the joint Met Council/Hennepin County/Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority public hearing to pass a resolution approving or disapproving the plans.  That meeting was in January, so the deadline for Crystal to act is March 4.

After the public hearing on February 2, the city council will begin debate on approving or disapproving the plans.  The council has three options:

  1. Approve the plans as presented.
  2. Disapprove the plans, and provide a list of “specific amendments to the plans that, if adopted, would cause [us] to withdraw our disapproval”.
  3. Take no formal action on the plan.  If no formal action is taken, the plans are then deemed approved.

The council is limited in what we can consider when approving or disapproving the plans.  We can only consider specific plans within the city of Crystal pertaining to the technical design of the LRT system.  For example, station locations, curb modifications, pedestrian facilities, park-and-ride facilities, and track placement.

Should we decide to disapprove the plans, we need to provide a detailed list of what it would take to withdraw our disapproval.  The Met Council would then hold a hearing and decide whether to accommodate our requests. They are not required by law to satisfy our objections.

Here’s the schedule of relevant council meetings for this process:

  • February 2 – Public Hearing, with option to continue to Feb 16.
  • February 16 – Consider municipal consent resolution, continued public hearing (if necessary).
  • February 29 – Consider municipal consent resolution, if no action taken on Feb 16.

If no action is taken to approve or disapprove during the February 29 meeting, the plans will be deemed approved.

If you have any feedback, questions or concerns about the technical plans for LRT, please consider attending the February 2 public hearing on the topic, and/or contacting me.

The plans are on display at City Hall or the Rockford Road library, if you want to check them out.