Southwest Light Rail project gets approval to begin construction

- The Federal Transit Administration has cleared the way for the $2 billion Southwest Light Rail Transit Project to begin construction.

The FTA announced the decision Wednesday after granting what is known as a Letter of No Prejudice, which the Metropolitan Council called a “critical milestone for the project,” making the early construction work on the project eligible for federal reimbursement.

“This news is long-awaited and hard-earned,” said Gov. Mark Dayton. “The Southwest Light Rail Transit project is a critical economic development project for the people of Minnesota. When complete, it will improve many thousands of lives from Eden Prairie to North Minneapolis. It will create new jobs, reduce highway congestion, and better connect Minnesotans to one another."

The Met Council projects it will be the largest infrastructure project in the state’s history. The Council says it will create 7,500 construction jobs with an estimated $350 million payroll.

The federal reimbursement will come in the form of a Full Funding Grant Agreement award and is expected to be $929 million, or nearly half of the project’s total cost.

The Met Council has also already solicited contract bids during this approval process. Lunda/C.S. McCrossan and Ames/Kraemer were the two bidders. The Met Council will still need to award the contract with Hennepin County approval.

Nov. 15, Hennepin County and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority will hold special meetings to consider approving the work. The Met Council will vote on awarding the contract to the apparent low bidder Nov. 15 as well.

To begin, construction crews could staff and mobilize equipment as early as this winter as well as clear the site, some demolition work and utility work.

The brunt of the construction would occur in 2019-2022 with testing of the system with new light rail vehicles anticipated in 2022-2023. The Light Rail should begin passenger service in 2023 as an extension of the Metro Green Line.

Southwest Light Rail is a 14.5-mile line with 16 stations. The line will serve Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

In 2014, there were approximately 64,300 jobs within a half mile of the proposed stations and 126,800 jobs in downtown Minneapolis.

By 2035, employment is expected to grow to 80,900 within a half-mile of the stations and 145,300 in downtown Minneapolis. Additionally, the population along the line outside of Minneapolis is expected to grow by 56 percent from 2014 to 2035.

MORE REACTIONS:

Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff:

The FTA takes this step very seriously and I am thrilled to receive the approval that allows us to award the state’s largest civil construction project. SWLRT is a strong, important project, which has been designed and planned by a team of some of the most talented professionals in the country. Its planning alone has attracted millions of private economic development along the corridor, generating a return on investment before the first shovels even hit the ground. And now, thanks to our federal partners, the hard work and commitment from the county and so many in our region, we have the critical approval in hand and that final step of construction is on the horizon.

Hennepin County Board of Commissioners Chair Jan Callison:

This is a landmark moment and investment for our county, state and region, and I am proud that we got here together.

Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority Board Chair Peter McLaughlin:

We have cleared many hurdles along the way, and inevitably, there will be a few more to come, but I remain confident we can keep this project moving to opening day. This decision marks another crucial step in our construction of a 21st century transit system.

Rep.-elect Dean Phillips:

For too long, Minnesota has sent more money to Washington than has been returned. This is a rare opportunity to correct that course. I have been, and will continue to be, a vocal advocate for infrastructure investments, including the SouthWest and Bottineau Light Rail lines, for Minnesota’s Third District. The $1 billion investment in SouthWest Light Rail will spur job growth, provide access to employment, and incentivize further economic development in communities along the line. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress, the Minnesota legislature, and the Walz administration to ensure these important projects are completed.

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