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Planners prepare first bid package for Southwest light rail route

Planners for the Southwest Light Rail Transit line are gearing up to release the first of three major bid packages for contractors interested in working on the $1.8 billion project. The civil construction package will be opened for bids in January.

The 14.5-mile Southwest line will run between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, stopping in St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka. But before the package is released, the Metropolitan Council — the regional planning agency behind the project — will host a contractor information meeting and mixer Dec. 5.

Project planners at the meeting will dig into the details of the line, discuss the bidding process and help connect potential bidders and smaller contractors interested in working on what will become the region’s longest light rail project.

The Southwest project calls for 15 new stations along 14.5 miles of double track that will include 29 new bridges, two light rail tunnels, six pedestrian tunnels and eight new park-and-ride facilities.

In some ways, the project will be more complex than the Green Line that was completed in 2014, said Jim Alexander, director of design and engineering for the Southwest project office. The Green Line runs between the downtowns of St. Paul and Minneapolis and is the second line built in the area.

The Southwest line will be complex because of the number of pile drivers and other materials contractors will need to build the bridges. A few time-consuming parts of the project will need to be phased early in the construction process in order to complete those parts on time, he said.

“In terms of the logistics of what all needs to be accomplished, it is just more involved” than the Green Line, Alexander said.

Even so, Dave Semerad, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, estimates the Met Council won’t have trouble finding contractors to work on the project. Since the state Legislature was unable to pass a bonding bill this year, public works projects in the metro have been pushed back, he said.

“Contractors are finishing up the work they do have and they are looking to the future to see what’s next,” Semerad said. “This project coming online will be good news for a lot of people.”

The civil construction package will entail moving underground public utilities, laying the track and completing the bulk of the construction for the project including roadwork, tunnels, bridges, stations and park-and-ride facilities.

After the project’s civil construction package is opened for bids, two more major packages will be released in the first half of the year. The systems package is expected to be opened for responses in April. The operations and maintenance facility package is scheduled to be released in June.

So far, only the civil construction bid package has a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise goal – an initiative aimed at giving more work to businesses owned by women and minorities. The Met Council is asking contractors to show they can meet the Met Council’s 16 percent DBE goal on that package.

The other two packages will be assigned DBE goals before they are released for bid, Alexander said.

The civil construction contract is scheduled to be awarded in July, the same month the federal government is expected to approve more than $900 million in funding for the project. Alexander said he thinks the Met Council is in a “pretty good position” to secure those funds.

Once those federal dollars are officially locked in, the project will be fully funded – a major feat after the controversial line became the stumbling block that kept legislators from passing a bonding or transportation bill before their session ended in May.

In August the Met Council, Hennepin County and the Counties Transit Improvement Board agreed on a patchwork of financing to cover the state’s share of the project. Even so, regional leaders are still hoping that even a Republican-dominated Legislature will provide bonding for the line in the coming session to replace that patchwork.

But either way, the fact that the project is moving forward is good news for contractors, even those not working on the Southwest LRT line directly, Semerad said.

“Whenever you have a transportation project like this, you always have commercial development projects that follow,” he said. “And that’s good for everybody.”

Contractors interested in working on the project are encouraged to attend a Dec. 5 open house that will run from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Minnetonka Community Center at 14600 Minnetonka Blvd.

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