Metro Transit can move into the final phases of planning for Southwest light rail, the 14.5 mile extension of the Green Line.
Thanks to votes Wednesday by the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the Met Council, and another by the Hennepin County Board the day before, the region now has legal commitments to pay half the cost of the $1.858 billion project. That will allow Metro Transit staff to submit an application to the Federal Transit Administration for final agreement on federal funding.
The actions taken this week are meant to show the FTA that there is money to fill out the state’s share of the costs. But in keeping with so much tied to the Southwest LRT project, it wasn’t easy. The recent moves became necessary after a transportation funding package failed in the politically divided state Legislature. The original hope — that the state would pick up 10 percent of the project budget, roughly the same share Minnesota paid for the existing Green and Blue lines — disappeared with the failure of Gov. Mark Dayton and fellow Democrats to reach a deal with House majority Republicans on a roads, bridges and mass transit.
“The governor said we’re down to two options,” Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said before the CTIB vote. “Either we’re doing the project or we’re not.”
A Problematic Message to Lawmakers
The complex funding mechanism resulted from meetings convened by Dayton. Under the plan unveiled last week, the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority and CTIB will add $20.5 million to their existing share of the cost while the Met Council, which is overseeing the project, pledged to sell “certificates of participation” for the remainder of the $144.5 million gap. As a result, a funding plan that could once be explained with a simple pie chart containing four slices has become — first in response to cost increases that nearly killed the project last summer and now because of legislative gridlock — one with eight pieces.
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