Price Tag of Southwest LRT Nears $2 Billion

The following article by Eric Best was published April 27, 2015 in the Southwest Journal.

Price Tag of Southwest LRT Nears $2 Billion

Photo by Eric Best
The Metropolitan Council announced Monday that the cost of the Southwest LRT Project is now nearly $2 billion thanks to recent test results and project delays.The now $1.994 billion price tag includes a roughly 20 percent increase of $341 million due to poor ground conditions and soil contamination.  The council also pushed the project opening back one year to 2020, after engineering and environmental studies conducted between last December and this spring.

“The additional costs for the Southwest LRT Project pose significant challenges for our funding partners and taxpayers,” said Met Council Chair Adam Duininck in a statement. “I will be talking with our funding partners, local communities and legislative leaders to determine the future of this project – all options are on the table.”

The Federal Transit Administration, in cooperation with the council project office, is expected to publish the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement in late May.

It’s unclear if the swelling cost estimate of the project makes it unfeasible. The last light rail project, the Green Line between Minneapolis and St. Paul along University Avenue, was completed last June for nearly $1 billion.

Local leaders have said the SWLRT project could bring development along the line. The project was most recently brought up in discussions around a proposed soccer stadium just west of Target Field, which could see a Southwest station built along Royalston Avenue.

“As we weigh our options, I have directed our engineers and contractors to pursue every possible efficiency to achieve cost savings,” Duininck said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement Monday that he was “shocked” and “appalled” to learn of the new estimated cost.

“The continuing escalation of the costs to design and build this line raise serious questions about its viability and affordability,” Dayton said. “I certainly will not recommend that any additional public money be committed to the project until I am satisfied that its cost can be justified and properly managed.”

The Lakes and Parks Alliance of Minneapolis, which has filed a lawsuit against the Met Council to halt the project until an environmental impact statement is completed, issued a statement Monday saying the group’s lawsuit has been “validated.”

“While we are glad that Adam Duininck acknowledges there are substantial environmental and safety problems, we notice that he still hasn’t released the environmental impact statement,” the group stated. “We hope he does so very soon. For many months the public has been tying itself in knots over this project — which is, at $2 billion, the costliest public works project in state history — and has not been well served by the secrecy surrounding it.”

Up until the latest projected budget increase, the funding breakdown for the LRT line was as follows: 10 percent ($165 million) from the State of Minnesota; 30 percent ($469 million) from the Counties Transit Improvement Board; 10 percent ($165 million) from the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority; and 50 percent ($827 million) from the Federal Transit Administration.