Southwest light rail project faces cost overruns, postponed until 2027 – WCCO

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A new transit line connecting Minneapolis to the suburbs to Eden Prairie is facing a massive cost overrun and a four-year delay, prompting calls for an audit of spending and decision-making.

Fresh criticism surrounds the construction of the Southwest Light Rail – the Green Line extension project – after the Metropolitan Council on Wednesday approved an additional project 210 million dollars for the entrepreneur and says that the costs could increase by one another $550 million before its completion.

READ MORE: Bill that would check progress of Southwest Light Rail project at state capitol with bipartisan support

The original cost of the largest infrastructure project in state history was around $2 billion and the plan was to open to runners in 2023. The new estimate goes up to $2.75 billion and it won’t be operational until 2027, officials said.

Sen. Scott Dibble, a Minneapolis DFL lawmaker whose district includes part of the Southwest Streetcar route, said he would introduce legislation that would require an audit of the project.

Sen. Scott Newman, Republican chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said he would have a speedy hearing on the bill early in the legislative session. In the meantime, he wants to suspend funding for the project, which he describes as a “waste of historic proportions”, until this assessment is complete.

“It won’t give us enough information in time to resolve what’s wrong with the South West LRT, but it would give us enough information to understand the dynamics at play and the level of mismanagement that is happening. is produced,” Dibble said. “The fundamental question is: for the expenditure, do we benefit from it? The answer may be yes, but we need to see this analysis.

Nick Thompson, who is assistant general manager for capital projects like this at Metro Transit, said the complexity of building light rail and changing construction plans along parts of the line public transport are to blame for the increase in the budget and the shift in the schedule.

“Unfortunately these circumstances have caused delays, but we are still on track to complete the project,” he said, acknowledging the frustration. “There is a delay, but we will finish it and it is a project that will be in place for generations. The infrastructure we build has a lifespan of 100 years before it needs to be replaced.

(credit: CBS)

The Southwest Light Rail is a 14.5 mile extension of the Green Line that connects St. Paul to Minneapolis. It includes new stations in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

Dibble criticized the Met Council for what he called the lack of transparency around the project. He warned that this is an example that could hurt public support for future transit investments.

“I think people really understand, ‘OK, this is bad,'” Dibble said. “They had ample opportunity to change and course-correct and they didn’t for some reason.”

He and other state lawmakers peppered Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle and Thompson with questions during a legislative hearing on Wednesday. Democrats and Republicans have expressed dismay at the increased spending needed to complete it.

“I can’t imagine if my contractor had gone over that budget,” said Senator Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, referring to the landscaping she had done in her home.

Dibble said he is also introducing a bill ready on Monday when the legislature begins to change the structure of the Met Council so that members are elected by the public, rather than appointed by the governor as they currently are. under state law.

“It absolutely has to be an elected body – there is no other recourse,” he said. “They are just so insensitive, they lack transparency. They don’t take any advice.

Zelle, president of the Met Council, said the group would learn from this experience for future projects in the Twin Cities subway.

“In hindsight, we really could have done more to help illustrate and communicate the potential complications that come with a project of this magnitude,” he said.

“You laugh”

The news angered neighbors living next to the building.

“You hear a lower volume right now,” Glenn Miller said of the lingering buzz from across the street. “It can be oppressive, this continuous noise.”

The visual aspect of seeing heavy equipment outside your window every day didn’t help. His annoyance was amplified when he learned that the project was going to take much longer than expected.

“My thought was ‘Are you kidding me, four?’ We moved into the house thinking it would be done this year, 2022,” he said.

Miller lives a short walk from the Kenilworth Trail, specifically just off a narrow, tricky corridor along the Southwest Light Rail track. This location is one of the reasons the project is delayed.

“To lose [the trail] presumably until 2027 is a disappointment,” he said.

That sentiment was echoed further on the projected light rail route at St. Louis Park. While walking near Jorvig Park, Lonnie Ranallo said she used to commute on the Cedar Lake Trail to downtown Minneapolis. It has been closed since construction began.

“I live three blocks from where the train would arrive and I was super excited about it,” Ranallo said. “It’s really frustrating that it’s taking so long. You wonder how good a project is going to be if it has to take so long.

She and Miller are still supportive of the project and the idea of ​​expanding public transit. They just wonder if someone else will move on.

“I suspect this could be the killer project for future light rail transit in the metro area,” Miller said.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story stated that the original departure date for Southwest Light Rail riders was in 2024, but it was scheduled for 2023. This story has been updated.

Jose P. Rogers