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Cost to build Minn. light rail grows to $1.86B
2016-08-09 20:19:13
Claire Thompson
Unimaple Technology Ltd.

A 14.5-mile proposed light-rail line between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie in Minnesota is now projected to cost $1.86 billion, an increase of $19 million. The Metropolitan Council planning agency says the increase is due to delays caused by legislative inaction.

The cost of the Southwest light-rail line has increased — again. This time, by $19 million.

The price tag of the 14.5-mile line linking downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie is now $1.858 billion. Although the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning body that is building the project, is quick to note that about half of the $19 million increase will be borne by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), it leaves local taxpayers responsible for $9.5 million.

The increase is because of “inaction by House leadership to provide the remaining state share of funding,” according to a Met Council news release on Monday.

This refers to the final piece of local funding totaling $135 million that was to come from state coffers this legislative session. But light rail is controversial among some Republican lawmakers, and a deal was not struck, leaving the Southwest project (and others) in limbo.

Transit advocates are hopeful a special session of the Legislature this month may provide a pathway to shoring up those local funds. But Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday that Republican opposition to additional state funding for Twin Cities transit programs is the major stumbling block as he and legislative leaders continue to discuss a possible special legislative session.

A full local match must be nailed down before the FTA grants its portion to the Southwest project, about $929 million.

‘Cost of inaction is real’

“The cost of inaction is real, large, and one that falls on the taxpayers of the region,” said Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck.

At a news conference Monday covered by my colleague Patrick Condon, Dayton was asked about the new SWLRT cost estimate. While he hadn’t yet seen detailed explanations for the latest cost bump, the governor suggested efforts by statehouse Republicans to block the project were a likely factor.

“The longer we delay the project, the more expensive it’s going to be,” Dayton said. “The clock is ticking, as well as the eligibility for the federal funding.”

Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, member of the House Subcommittee on Metropolitan Council Accountability and Transparency, said in a statement: “It’s clear that there are bipartisan questions about whether this $2 billion project is a worthy use of taxpayer dollars; Democrats neglected to fund Southwest Light Rail when they had full control of state government two years ago, and Governor Dayton chose not to include Southwest Light Rail funding in his proposal for the largest bonding bill in state history. I would encourage the Met Council to stop wasting taxpayer resources playing the political blame game when they can’t even convince Democrats to make this project a priority.”

Because of the funding issue, the project has essentially stalled, Duininck said. Its environmental review has been completed and planners are ready to request FTA approval to enter the engineering phase — when construction bids are let.

Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman said the SWLRT’s $19 million budget increase is effective Oct. 1. After that, the price will go up an additional $1 million a week due to delays, about $50 million a year. She said the cost increase is because of expenses related to third-party designers and consultants who will have to be rehired once — if — the project resumes. She said a legal fees related to a lawsuit, filed by a group that opposes the project, is not part of the cost increase.

The Southwest project is slated to begin service in 2021, the same year as the Bottineau Blue Line extension linking Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park.


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