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Southwest LRT price tag now estimated at $2 billion

The price tag for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line from Minneapolis to Eden Prairie has ballooned to nearly $2 billion due to poor soil conditions and project delays.

The Metropolitan Council announced Monday morning that results of further tests and engineering now peg the project’s cost at $1.994 billion — a $341 million increase from the previously reported cost. The 16-mile Southwest line was already the region’s most expensive transit project to date. The Green Line, between Minneapolis and St. Paul along University Avenue, was completed last June for nearly $1 billion.

The new cost estimate is a result of more detailed engineering and environmental tests, as well as a delayed environmental review which pushes the anticipated project completion date from 2019 to 2020.

In a statement Monday, Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said the cost increase presents a “significant problem” for the project partners and tax payers and that “all options are on the table.”

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

Many of the project backers received the new estimate over the weekend — including Gov. Mark Dayton.

In a statement Monday, the governor said he was “shocked and appalled” to learn of the cost increases.

“The continuing escalation of the costs to design and build this line raise serious questions about its viability and affordability,” he said.

He said the Met Council should quickly review other options for providing transit to the southwest suburbs and compare it to the Southwest LRT project. The governor also said he wouldn’t support additional public funding for the project until “its cost can be justified and properly managed.” He called into question the Met Council staff’s ability manage the project.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who chairs the Counties Transit Improvement Board, said Monday that the cost increase is a huge problem to work through, but he remains a believer in the project. He hopes to be able to push the costs down. The board is expected to pay 30 percent of the project’s capital cost with sales tax revenues.

“Just as we did on Hiawatha and Central, we took a sharp pencil to those projects, to make sure that the costs stayed within reasonable bounds,” he said. “We’ll take a sharp pencil to this too.”

The cost increase was largely driven by the number of retaining walls identified, poor ground conditions corridor-wide, soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins, refinements to wetland areas in Eden Prairie, 11 additional acres of property acquisitions and 99 additional business relocations identified and crossing improvements at five shared LRT and freight crossings.

McLaughlin said he didn’t have suggestions yet for where the costs could be reduced or how the additional costs will be split among the funding partners because the information was so new.

The Federal Transit Administration is expected to pay for 50 percent of the capital cost. The largest local funder is CTIB, with a 30 percent share, and the state and Hennepin County each pay 10 percent.

To date, $59 million has been spent on the line, according to the Southwest project office.

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