Southwest light rail budget cut from $2 billion to $1.7 billion

The Twin Cities newest light rail project appears to be back on track after some major budget cutting.  A key management committee has agreed to slash a quarter-billion dollars from the project connecting Eden Prairie with downtown Minneapolis.

After Wednesday’s vote, it seems that the starting and finishing station for the Southwest light rail will be right at the Southwest station in Eden Prairie.  Currently, it's a major center for bus service in Eden Prairie and southwest suburbs including Chaska and Chanhassen.

The Southwest LRT project is now slated to cost around $1.7 billion -- supporters are hoping the price is right to get this done. 

Eden Prairie's Southwest station is already bustling with restaurants, regional bus service, and a major parking structure, but will likely soon add light rail to make it a true transportation hub.

It’s good news for some, but critics wonder, at what cost?

“I feel like this community doesn't need it,” Andrew Barclay, who opposes the SWLRT, said. "It's something unnecessary. And to spend $1.7 billion on a project in a community where there are so many other things we can put the money towards is kind of pointless."

Heidi Hartman, who supports the SWLRT, thinks it is a logical decision.

"It makes sense from both financial and location wise,” Hartman said.  “They are already using this for Met Transit bus lines. So it makes sense for people connecting to a bus.  It's logical. Just like downtown where bus and light rail meet."

A key management committee voted on Wednesday to lock in on a new budget and scope for the Southwest light rail line that had ballooned to a nearly $2 billion project.

The final station out by Eden Prairie City Hall on Mitchell Road is no longer.  Instead, the 16-mile route will end at the Southwest station. Eden Prairie also loses a station near its large shopping mall -- the panel agreeing to defer construction there to save money up front.

"All the cities along the line embraced the notion that we had to tighten our belts and figure out a way to keep the project going,” Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said. “No one wanted the project to die. Nobody."

Minneapolis representatives made it clear that they had sacrificed enough to make the project a reality.  In the final cuts though, they agreed to say goodbye to a $12 million bridge for cyclists and runners on the wildly popular Cedar Lake bike trail.

"I just want to be clear that the city is not going to be making a cash contribution,” Peter Wagenius said.

This project still needs to clear several hurdles including a final vote by the met council next week.  In the meantime, Hennepin County as well as other communities along the line including Minnetonka, Saint Louis Park, and Hopkins have agreed to pitch in some extra funding and land donations to make the numbers work.

If there aren't any more hiccups, this line is slated to begin operations in 2020.