The following article by Janet Moore, dated June 24, 2015, was published in the Star Tribune.
Cost Cutting for Southwest Light Rail Leans to Eden Prairie
In a June 18 letter to Met Council head Adam Duininck that was released to the media Wednesday, June 24, 2015, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said the city has already sacrificed enough, and the five stations in the city provide critical entry points for light rail disadvantaged riders.
No consensus yet found to reach $341 million in savings as July 8 vote nears. Minneapolis officials say city has yielded enough.
Various ways to trim $341 million from the Southwest light-rail project’s burgeoning budget were bandied about Wednesday, and while no decisions were made, an advisory committee appears to be leaning toward a solution that hits Eden Prairie the hardest.
The Southwest Corridor Management Committee, a 17-member group of officials with ties to the five cities along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — and Metro Transit staff members are charged with cutting the 16-mile line’s costs while making the project viable by attracting about 30,000 riders each day in order to qualify for $827 million in federal funding.
Eden Prairie Mayor, Nancy Tyra-Lukens suggested ending the line at the Southwest station, now a transit hub for bus service. That would mean the Mitchell Road station in Eden Prairie would be eliminated, and a station at Eden Prairie Town Center deferred.
Meanwhile, Minneapolis officials maintained their position that the city should not lose any stations at the other end of the line.
The cost-cutting exercise comes after the revelation by the Metropolitan Council in April that the $1.65 billion price tag had ballooned to $2 billion, due to poor ground conditions along its path, increased costs associated with property acquisition and contaminated soil in St. Louis Park and Hopkins.
Several of the scenarios discussed involve deferring the Penn station in Minneapolis, an option rejected by the city.
In a June 18 letter to Met Council head Adam Duininck that was released to the media Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges said the city has already sacrificed enough, and the five stations in the city provide critical entry points for disadvantaged riders.
“Minneapolis has already given up a lot for Southwest LRT,” the letter said. “We lost on the alignment of LRT. We lost on the alignment of freight.”
Hodges said the city’s continued support depends on the Met Council maintaining the deal made last summer, an environmental review “containing no surprises” and maintaining Minneapolis’ residents’ access to “a real equity train.”
More number crunching due
Committee member Will Roach, who heads the Business Advisory Committee, said the group of businesses also supports ending the line at Southwest Station in Eden Prairie. This would “avoid significant impact on the rest of the line,” he said.
It’s unclear whether the Eden Prairie mayor’s proposal will get to the needed level of cuts.
Tyra-Lukens said it would likely be $60 million short. Metro Transit staff will now crunch the numbers to see if the proposal is viable.
Another scenario previously discussed by the committee involves ending the line near Eden Prairie Town Center, but Tyra-Lukens said the lack of parking there could be problematic.
As a result of the cost overruns, the state’s largest transportation project will be delayed by a year, opening sometime in 2020.
The news provoked a “shocked and appalled” Gov. Mark Dayton to express “serious questions about its viability and affordability,” and Duininck to note that “all options are on the table.”
A subsequent review by Metro Transit indicated light-rail is still the most-efficient and reliable option — beyond scrapping the project altogether — to serve the southwestern suburbs, when compared to bus service and bus-rapid transit. However, light rail has the highest capital cost.
A final recommendation to the Met Council from the committee is expected to come during a July 1 meeting, with the full council acting on the new budget July 8.