Southwest Light Rail committee insists on smaller price tag

The Southwest Light Rail Transit Line's finances are running off the rails, ballooning to nearly $2 billion. The SWLRT's management committee made it clear on Wednesday that it wants the 16-mile project between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie to be done, but insists it needs to be done at a price tag closer to $1.6 billion.

Higher price tag, more time

Last week, the Metropolitan Council's new estimates for the line came in nearly $350 million higher than expected and the opening day delayed by a year to 2020. The culprit is apparently lousy ground conditions for new track and soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins. Gov. Mark Dayton was "appalled" when the Met Council's analysis was released.

"I was shocked and appalled to learn last Friday that the staff at the Metropolitan Council had increased its estimate of the cost of the Southwest Line Rail Transit line by $341 million to $1.994 billion," Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement. "The continuing escalation of the costs to design and build this line raise serious questions about its viability and affordability. The full board of the Metropolitan Council should quickly review other options for providing much-needed public transit to this region of the metro area."

More - Southwest LRT delayed to 2020, now a $2B projectThe committee, comprised of local mayors and city council members seems convinced they can find the necessary cost savings.

"Everybody on the line is going to have to give up something here. Everyone wants it to work. Every city will need to think long and hard how to do this," Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said.

A regional transit board that is providing 30 percent, or close to $500 million to fund the project, announced on Wednesday it's not going to add a penny more despite the new increased cost projections.

How to save $100M

One idea clearly on the chopping block is getting rid of what would be considered the very first (or last) stop on the line, Mitchell Road in Eden Prairie. Instead, the train would funnel in and out of the current Southwest Metro Transit hub at Highway 5 and Prairie Center Drive to save potentially over $100 million. Eden Prairie's mayor says this is something worth exploring.

"We understand the efforts to get the project accomplished, there might have to be some flexibility. We would be flexible to entertaining some options on that," Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said.
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