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Southwest LRT costs continue to climb

Janice Bitters//August 8, 2016

Southwest LRT costs continue to climb

Janice Bitters//August 8, 2016

The cost of building the Southwest light rail transit project continues to grow because of delays in securing state funding, the Metropolitan Council said Monday.

So far, the 14.5-mile line linking Minneapolis to Eden Prairie has incurred $19 million in additional costs due to a slowdown in work as planners wait to see whether legislators will convene a special session later this month. That raises the estimated total cost to nearly $1.86 billion.

The Met Council, which is planning the project, hopes a special session will yield a transportation or bonding bill to provide the final $135 million the project needs to move forward. But the council warns that costs will keep rising if the Legislature doesn’t act quickly.

Warning that “the clock is ticking” for a special session, Gov. Mark Dayton said Monday he will meet with legislative caucus leaders on Friday to discuss whether he will call legislators back to St. Paul this year.

“The longer we delay the [Southwest] project, the more expensive it’s going to be,” he said at a press conference in St. Paul. Transit funding remains a stumbling block in special-session talks, he said.

“The cost of inaction is real, large, and one that falls on the taxpayers of this region,” Adam Duininck, chair of the Met Council, said in a press release Monday. “We have been very clear that [Southwest] LRT needed to secure the remaining funding during the 2016 legislative schedule to stay on time, avoid delay costs and remain a strong project with the [Federal Transit Administration].”

The FTA last month approved the environmental work on the project, making the project eligible to apply for $919 million in federal funding. Half of the latest increased costs would be covered by the federal government.

But the announcement leaves a new $9.5 million local funding gap that planners don’t yet know how they’ll fill, said Kate Brickman, spokesperson for the regional planning body.

“At this point we need to work with our partners on how to secure the remaining state share as well as how to handle this additional local funding gap,” she said.

The announcement marks the second time the project’s price tag has increased in recent weeks. The cost is creeping closer to earlier $2 billion estimates that sent planners back to the drawing board to cut costs in 2015.

In July, the project’s Corridor Management Committee approved a $39 million budget increase due to higher-than-expected value of several parcels of land that will be turned over to the Met Council for the project in five cities along the line.

The Metropolitan Council this week is expected to cement that cost increase.


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