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Southwest LRT price tag jumps to $2 billion

Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “shocked and appalled” at the new cost of the project, saying it raises serious questions about its viability and affordability. 

Gov. Mark Dayton: “The continuing escalation of the costs to design and build this line raise serious questions about its viability and affordability.”
MinnPost photo by Bill Kelley

What was once a $1.66 billion price tag to extend light rail from Target Field Station to Eden Prairie is now a nearly $2 billion price tag.

The increase in the estimate to complete the 16-mile extension is being blamed on more-detailed engineering, which found poor ground conditions along the route and soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins. The price increase, coming even before next month’s expected release of a draft environmental impact statement that could result in other cost hikes, threatens the project.

Gov. Mark Dayton said he was “shocked and appalled” at the new estimated costs. “The continuing escalation of the costs to design and build this line raise serious questions about its viability and affordability,” Dayton said. 

Dayton said he wants the Metropolitan Council to review the costs compared with other options for delivering transit services to the region served by the expansion. He also wants the council to look at the “capabilities and competencies” of the Met Council project staff. “I certainly will not recommend that any additional public money be committed to the project until I am satisfied that its cost can be justified and properly managed.” 

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In an earlier statement released Monday, Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said, “The additional costs for the Southwest LRT Project pose significant challenges for our funding partners and taxpayers, I will be talking with our funding partners, local communities, and legislative leaders to determine the future of this project – all options are on the table. As we weigh our options, I have directed our engineers and contractors to pursue every possible efficiency to achieve cost savings.” 

The additional information came as the project moved to the 30 percent engineering level, something that happens once state and local funding commitments have been made. According to the statement, the more-detailed engineering found additional wetlands that would be impacted, most of those in Eden Prairie. It also identified the need for 11 additional acres of property (to 137 acres), 99 additional businesses that need to be relocated (for a total of 146) and additional gated crossings and crossing improvements where light rail and freight rail are in close proximity.