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Federal budget compromise funds Southwest light rail

Metropolitan Council
The $1.858 billion, 14.5-mile extension of the current Green Line train has been controversial, first for its route and then for its funding problems.

The budget compromise to fund the federal government, reached over the weekend in Washington but still pending final approval by lawmakers, had one detail of particular interest to Minnesotans: it includes funding for the Southwest Light Rail project.

Under the compromise, which funds the government through the end of the fiscal year, SWLRT will receive $10 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The budget includes the project as one of four that are anticipated to receive a full-funding grant agreement between federal and state authorities. That agreement would lock in over $900 million in federal support for the project over the course of construction. The others are in Maryland, Washington state and California.

Officials at the Metropolitan Council had been optimistic that the full-funding grant agreement would be reached this year. President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint injected some level of uncertainty: he proposed to cut funding for the feds’ so-called New Starts program, which funds SWLRT and other transit projects.

Republican negotiators in D.C. did not see those cuts through to the budget agreement, and agreed to provide over $1.6 billion to New Starts programs.

“This is encouraging news, ” said Met Council Chair Adam Duininck. “The inclusion of SWLRT in the proposed budget is an indication that the federal delegation understands the project is a key piece of our region’s transporation infrastructure.”

As the staff was preparing the statement, agency spokesman John Schadl quipped: “It’s a good morning here at the Met Council.” The agency is on track to make submit its application for the agreement later this year – likely sometime in the sumer. Once approved, construction can start with an expectation that it could begin this fall. Passenger service is expected to begin in the first half of 2021.

The $1.858 billion, 14.5-mile extension of the current Green Line train has been controversial, first for its route and then for its funding problems.

The route goes from Target Field Station to Eden Prairie but must pass through the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis along the way. Neighbors objected that the route — which includes new bridges over the Kenilworth channel and a tunnel south of there. A lawsuit was filed challenging the decision. A federal judge found that while the Met Council got very close to prejudging the environmental review of the route, it did not cross the line into illegality.

It also went through a cut in scope when cost estimates increased in 2015.

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There has also been an ongoing fight between Republicans in the state Legislature and the Met Council over what was to have been a 10 percent funding share. The Met Council and the five-county Counties Transit Improvement Board have since come up with a funding mechanism that avoids a state contribution.

Even with the state government no longer a funding partner, some GOP leaders have tried to urge the new federal Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to halt the full-funding grant agreement. That brought letters from Gov. Mark Dayton and local government officials to Chao to support the agreement.

The federal government will pay $929 million — half of the total costs for the extension — with the remainder shared by CTIB and the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority. The Met Council has been proceeding with the project with local funds, some of which will be reimbursed once federal money starts flowing. The council has approved the purchase of rails cars and has been holding briefings for potential contractors.

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Gene Nelson on 05/01/2017 - 11:13 am.


    While I don’t live in the Twin Cities, but in rural MN, I’m happy about this news.
    Repub opposition to light rail, including their most recent proposal in the MN congress that cuts buses by 40% with zero for light rail make no sense to me.
    Difficult to understand why more roads seem to be the answer for repubs instead of alternative means of transportation such as light rail and buses. If you visit a major city that has a viable light rail transportation system such as Chicago, it is so easy and inexpensive to get around this traffic congested city.
    The cost to build a new light rail system or highway is similar..BUT…when it gets congested, all you need to do is add more train cars or trains…but a highway needs more lanes. PLUS…maintaining a light rail system is much less expensive than our highways…PLUS…studies have shown that adding lanes to highways, do nothing to eliminate congestion.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/01/2017 - 11:55 am.

      Knock Me Over With A Feather!

      Wait, is that correct? The GOP legislature wants to cut funding for buses? I always hear them telling us that buses are so much better than rail, it’s far superior. And now they want to cut buses too?

      Sort of reminds me of how they also talk about an increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit is better for low income folks than an increase in the minimum wage. Then when an increase in the EITC is actually proposed, they oppose that too.

      For Pete’s sake, just say you don’t like rail, buses, the minimum wage, and the EITC. Why are these GOP snow flakes so worried about taking a position and sticking to it?

      • Submitted by Gene Nelson on 05/01/2017 - 05:07 pm.

        40% cut for buses

        The last I read, indicated a 40% cut for buses, zilch for light rail and not enough for our crumbling infrastructure.

    • Submitted by Mike martin on 05/02/2017 - 12:38 am.

      SW LRT cost comparable to Highway NOT

      Since when does it cost over $ 100 million per mile to build a highway in rural MN? Or in the Twin Cities like SW LRT will cost?

      How will SW LRT relieve congestion on the I494-I694 loop, Hwy 169 & Hwy 62 and on I 394 when traffic backs up from the Lowry Hill Tunnel to Louisiana

      It won’t because SW LRT is not an alternative to those roads.

      If LRT is so great why did the cities south of the MN River decide to build a BRT route instead of an LRT route to get from south of the MN River to downtown Mpls on the I 35W corridor?

  2. Submitted by Patrick Tice on 05/01/2017 - 12:18 pm.

    Good news

    Now let’s get this infrastructure project underway instead of fussing about it and letting some other states get the Federal dollars.

  3. Submitted by David Selden on 05/01/2017 - 03:07 pm.

    What happened to objectivity?

    The $10 Million in the budget compromise only preserves the SWLRT status quo; it does nothing more. Before SWLRT will be eligible to receive $1 Billion in the federal matching funds that will be required to build this commuter line, the MetCouncil must first apply to the FTA for full funding which is discretionary on the FTA’s part. At the moment the Met Council cannot apply to the FTA because:
    1. It doesn’t have a complete financial plan which requires detailed disclosure of sources of funding including ongoing operating support.
    2. It has not reached an agreement with TC&W (the railroad running in the same corridor) providing that in the event of a catastrophic accident (ethanol and high voltage due not mix well), TC&W’s liability will be capped at $3 Million.

    The headline should have been, “MetCouncil again misrepresent status of SWLRT”

    • Submitted by Gene Nelson on 05/01/2017 - 05:14 pm.


      You actually believe that this full-funded program won’t happen?
      Personally, I think you’re misrepresenting this issue.

  4. Submitted by Richard Adair on 05/01/2017 - 06:29 pm.

    Compromise in St. Paul?

    Outstate Republican legislators don’t want to have anything to do with funding metro transit (even though their constituents use it when they visit, and their businesses benefit from having less congestion in the cities). When the first two light rail lines were built, some operating costs were assigned to the state because of the quaint notion that people in different parts of the state would help each other succeed. These costs persist, and have become the stated reason for trying to stop further light rail lines.

    How about this trade-off? Give metro counties the ability to increase the sales tax for transportation from the current cap of 0.25%, to 0.5% and use this to fund both construction and operating costs. Each county could decide to add the extra 25 cents on a $100 purchase, or not, depending on how much support for transit exists.

    Rural folks are off the hook. We who live in the metro can tax ourselves if we want to build a comprehensive transit system. A win-win. Respectful of different circumstances. Self determination. Local control. Costs borne by those who benefit. And all the other bromides.

  5. Submitted by Britter Ritter on 07/19/2017 - 10:58 pm.


    How is it that this bridge is reasonably attractive looking, while the new bridge over the St. Croix is incredibly hideous? Does no one in government have any esthetic sense? The Twin Cities have such beautiful bridges, Franklin Avenue, Third Avenue, to name two. This new one is a monstrosity.

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