The following letter from Douglas Peterson, SWLRT Community Advisory Committee member, was sent on May 17, 2015 to members of the Metropolitan Council and is posted on Park Watch with his permission.
METROPOLITAN COUNCIL: IT’S TIME TO BECOME TRANSPARENT
The Metropolitan Council on April 24, 2015 informed the public that it had identified 341 million dollars in additional costs to construct the Southwest LRT project, bringing the total cost to nearly two billion dollars for 16 miles of light rail transit infrastructure and equipment. Adam Duininck, Chair of the Metropolitan Council and the Southwest Corridor Management Committee said of the increase: “We are receiving strong direction from our partners, including local communities, to identify cost-savings so that light rail will work in the corridor. In the coming weeks our project office will be working with our partners to put forward a range of cost-cutting options for the Corridor Management Committee and other stakeholders to consider. We will also be reviewing the transit options such as enhanced bus service and bus rapid transit.”
Metropolitan Council Member Jennifer Munt, who chairs the Community Advisory Committee for the project, reported “not one individual on the [25-member] committee said we should pull the plug on the project. The committee stands ready to sharpen their pencils and make tough decisions to help rein in costs.” May 8, 2015. (http://www.metrocouncil.org/News-Events/Transportation/Newsletters/Council-pursues-cost-reductions-on-Southwest-LRT-P.aspx
It has been more than three weeks since those additional costs to the project were announced. Sadly, to date the Metropolitan Council has refused to disclose an itemized breakdown, by specific item and by municipality of those 341 million additional dollars. During the interim, there has been a SLRT Community Advisory Committee meeting on April 28, chaired by Metropolitan Council member Jennifer Mundt and a Southwest Corridor Management Committee meeting chaired by Adam Duininck on May 6. No specific itemization of those costs was provided to the committee members of either of those “stakeholders.” Representative Frank Hornstein, DFL Co-Lead on the Minnesota House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee, informed me on May 13, that he had requested the Metropolitan Council to provide him with a specific itemization of the increase, but that as of May 13, he had not been given that information. The Kenilworth Corridor is in Representative Hornstein’s district. Adam Duinick’s statement that “We are receiving strong direction from our partners, including local communities, to identify cost-savings so that light rail will work in the corridor,” is at best, misleading.
Although, as reported by Jennifer Munt, no one on the SLRT Community Advisory Committee said “we should pull the plug on the project,” there was extreme skepticism voiced by several members of the committee about the cost effectiveness and fiscal responsibility of even considering for a moment expending nearly one-half billion dollars (including its portion of the increased costs) on the Eden Prairie segment of the project while forcing light rail through the park-like Kenilworth Corridor. The project’s original concept was to run the western segment of the light rail line on abandoned railroad right of way land owned by the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority. Eden Prairie, early in the process convinced the Metropolitan Council to go off the tracks and run the light rail through bog land to get to an office park in Eden Prairie at a cost then estimated to be about three hundred million dollars. Although the Metropolitan Council has to date refused to release to the public a specific itemization of the increased costs, it seems fairly safe to assume that Eden Prairie’s total costs, including the recent increase, is upwards of one-half billion dollars. Pencils may indeed need to be sharpened.
The Metropolitan Council’s failure to timely release a specific itemization of the increased costs has greatly impeded stakeholders from closely examining the projected costs of the SWLRT. A SWLRT Corridor Management Committee meeting will be held at Beth El Synagogue, 5224 W. 26th Street, St. Louis Park, at 10:00 A.M. Wednesday, May 20, 2015. The item “Potential Cost Reduction Evaluation” will be on the agenda. It is time for the Metropolitan Council to begin to be transparent. The meeting is open to the public.
Douglas J. Peterson
SWLRT Community Advisory Committee member