Southwest Light Rail played 'minor' role in condo cracking, construction can restart
MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Construction of the Kenilworth tunnel along the Southwest Light Rail line in Minneapolis played only a "very minor" factor in cracks that developed at a nearby condo building, according to findings from an engineering firm hired by the Metropolitan Council.
Construction in the Kenilworth corridor, which has been halted since late January because of the investigation, can safely resume, according to a presentation made by Socotec Engineering, Inc., gave to members of the Cedar Isles Condominium Association board Tuesday.
Chicago-based Socotec blamed 75 percent of the building movement on "seasonal temperature changes." The remaining 25 percent is due to wind, freight train vibrations, deferred maintenance within the condo building, and neighboring light rail construction, the firm determined.
Multiple sources detailed the findings and the presentation to FOX 9. But the Met Council, which oversees construction along the 14.5-mile line and paid for the investigation, has not been given a document that lays out the findings, meaning they are not yet available through Minnesota's data practices law.
The route from Target Field to Eden Prairie has been plagued by delays and cost overruns that have pushed the final budget to $2.75 billion and the opening date to 2027. The biggest construction headaches have been in the half-mile Kenilworth tunnel, which runs feet from the Cedar Isles condos.
The next move is the condo association's to make. A meeting of condo owners is scheduled for next week. The association has hired its own lawyers and the engineering firm that originally designed the condo towers. It has been waiting for the Socotec report before choosing from its legal options and did not comment publicly Wednesday.
Met Council has not committed to paying for any fixes to the condo building. A judge or mediator could force the agency to pay for damages because of any structural effects the light rail construction is having.
The Cedar Isles towers are former grain silos converted to condos in the early 1980s. Condo owners have warned for years about cracks, especially in the years since 2015 when cracking developed during construction of a nearby apartment building.
Met Council has not identified a funding source for about $400 million of the cost overruns. Agency officials have been exploring options with Hennepin County and the Federal Transit Administration, the two primary funders of the project. Minnesota law prohibits additional state money from flowing to the line's construction.
The Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz recently triggered a state audit of the project. The Office of Legislative Auditor, which will conduct the review, has said it could take a year to finish because of the complicated nature of the project.
Last month, when asked by FOX 9, Walz has said he has confidence in Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle, whom he appointed to the job in 2019.
"At this point in time, the chairman’s certainly the right person to be there," Walz said in March. "I do believe we need to get it (Southwest Light Rail) done but I do believe that every dollar we spend, the public has every right to make sure they’re looking at those and make sure they’re well spent."
In January, Met Council approved a $210 million settlement with its prime construction contractor, Lunda McCrossan Joint Venture, to deal with numerous change orders since the project broke ground in 2018.
At that time, Met Council officials estimated that Southwest Light Rail would require an additional $450 million to $550 million beyond what it had funding to complete. Since then, the council has been rearranging project schedules.
In March, it authorized three multi-million dollar change orders to existing contracts: $7.8 million to Braun Intertec for testing and inspection work, $10.6 million to third-party validator AECOM for design support services, and $8.2 million to Venable, a law firm representing Met Council in negotiations with its construction and systems contractors.