Southwest Light Rail delays costing $1 million each week

- Long-standing hopes for a new light rail connecting Eden Prairie to Minneapolis-St. Paul could soon be dashed as supporters continue to wait for House leadership to approve state funding for the project. 

The Metropolitan Council announced Monday the Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project has incurred an extra $19 million in cost delays, due to inaction by House leadership to provide the remaining state share of funding.

According to the Metropolitan Council, the legislature adjourned before passing any funding for the SWLRT project, putting its timeline and future in jeopardy.

The project was originally estimated to cost $1.2 billion. The federal government has already agreed to foot half of the project building costs. Further engineering has revealed an increased estimate of $1.839 billion.

“Those costs will continue to rise every week the final local funding isn’t secured,” wrote Metropolitan Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman, later noting delays incur $1 million with every passing week.

“The longer you delay the more it costs and because of inaction by House GOP leadership we’re facing delay cost,” said SWLRT supporter, Cheryl Youakim (DFL-46B).

Youakim says the SWLRT will accommodate a significant projected population increase, create thousands of new jobs and will create a better quality of life for the number one growing job center in the region.

“We’re expecting a million more people by 2030,” Youakim told FOX 9, citing a League of Minnesota Cities projection. “We cannot pave our way out of a million more people. There’s just not enough space.”

While the project is largely supported by the business community and local elected officials it is widely opposed by GOP lawmakers.

“Our resistance to the project has grown even stronger just by virtually the fact that the majority of Minnesotans and the majority of the people in metro area don't want the project.” Rep. Tony Albright (R-55B) told FOX 9. “I cannot believe it will economically benefit the area any more than any other mass transit means will also do on a much more cost-effective basis.”

This, despite the federal government footing half of the bill, including delay costs. Albright would much rather see more “cost-effective” means of tackling the metro’s increasing road congestion.

“More lane miles in and around the metro area, as well as bus transit, or car pool lanes,” Albright said. “Lets buy six fully decked out busses with wi-fi and everything all the bells and whistles and save the taxpayer all that extra money for other programs like low-income housing.”

To that statement Youakim later shared, “busses drive on the same congested roads we’re already driving on.” Albright meanwhile maintains GOP lawmakers will likely stand firm.

“I don’t think the jury is out any more. Light rail doesn’t work,” he said.

SWLRT supporters plan to seek lawmakers’ approval for State funding in a special session they hope to see by the end of the month.

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