(The Center Square) – Consistent problems have pushed the Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) cost to $2.75 billion and delayed completion until 2027 – four years later and $550 million more expensive than planned.
Construction broke ground in 2018, but the first passenger isn’t estimated to use the Metro Green line extension – a 14.5-mile line with 16 stations serving Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie – until 2027.
“We are grateful to reach this milestone, which is the first step toward finalizing our project schedule and final budget,” Director of Transit Capitol programs Nick Thompson said in a news release. “We know our project partners and people in the region have been anxious for us to clarify what we need to do to finish this important project.”
Barriers to completing the project on time and within budget included:
- Constructing a barrier protection wall between the BNSF train freight and LRT tracks, as part of the safety agreement with BNSF.
- Changing construction methods to include a retaining wall for the Kenilworth Tunnel in Minneapolis.
- Adding the construction of the Eden Prairie Town Center station, originally deferred but added back in to meet community priorities.
This week, Met Council’s appointed members unanimously authorized a $210 million settlement with the construction contractor that will deplete its $2.2 billion budget. Metro Transit’s deputy general manager Nick Thompson estimated that finishing the Green Line could cost up to $550 million more.
“Stopping this project is not an option,” Thompson told Met Council members pre-vote, Fox 9 reported. “You do not just walk away from a project that is 60% completed without costs, without litigation.”
Senate Transportation Committee Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, called Southwest Light Rail “a boondoggle of historic proportions.”
“Words barely capture what a monumental disaster it has been,” Newman said in a statement. “Now we learn it will take at least three extra years and cost much, much, much more than we thought – plus $210 million to settle a lawsuit with a contractor. And we really have no idea what the final price tag will look like because they can’t, or won’t, tell us.”
Newman called to freeze Southwest LRT funds until its funds are audited.
“It is beyond lunacy to consider spending even one more red cent on any more of this nonsense,” Newman said.
Baruch Feigenbaum, an assistant director of transportation policy at the libertarian Reason Foundation, previously told The Center Square that rail project cost-overrun occurs in roughly 50% of projects. He estimated general cost overruns at 20%, meaning this project could exceed the original projected cost by $400 million.
“Why were these costs unforeseen?” Feigenbaum asked in August of 2021. “Were they costs related to raw materials being more expensive? I don’t know that any cost overruns are good, but some are a little bit more understandable than others.”