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Southwest Light Rail Green Line Extension water main break draws more criticism following water main break

(The Center Square) – Met Council’s Southwest Light Rail Green Line Extension has run into more trouble.

FOX 9 reported Calhoun Isles condo residents in southwest Minneapolis discovered Sunday that a water line serving the Kenilworth tunnel construction site had failed, leading to flooding in their basement parking garage.

The project had been on pause since late January.

“It sounded like Minnehaha Falls,” Vanne Owens Hayes, the condo association president, said, FOX 9 reported. “I stood at the end of the ramp and looked over. The sound you heard, you swore you were at Minnehaha Falls because it was coming so fast.”

At a legislative commission on metropolitan governance hearing in January 2018, the Calhoun Isles Condominium Association said the project’s construction and operations would put their property and residents’ wellbeing at risk.

Metro Transit Sr. Communications Specialist Trevor Roy told The Center Square in an emailed statement Wednesday that the public transportation operator is investigating the flooding and is estimating the budget increase to range from $450 million to $550 million.

Roy said the route through the Kenilworth Corridor required a half-mile tunnel because there isn’t sufficient space for freight trains and light rail to run side-by-side with the Cedar Lake Trail. He said the secant wall was implemented to mitigate potential soil settlement that could have resulted from sheet metal piling.

The project’s completion date has been pushed out until 2027, four years after expected. Challenges have included changing construction methods to include a retaining wall for the Kenilworth Tunnel, adding construction of the Eden Prairie Town Center station and constructing a barrier protection wall between the BNSF train freight and LRT tracks.

Minnesota legislators are considering several bills to give the project more oversight. State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, proposed the Minnesota Department of Transportation take over the project.

Reason Foundation Assistant Director of Transportation Policy Baruch Feigenbaum told The Center Square in a phone interview Wednesday that building rail projects alongside freight rail lines involves additional costs.

He said civil engineering best practices includes pre-construction assessment of whether there is any underground water that needs to be mitigated.

“It looks like they weren’t aware of some of the underground water that was in the area as well as how the drilling for the project would affect the structure of some of the buildings, and I’m not quite sure how a competent contractor would not be aware of those things,” he said.

Feigenbaum said Minnesota taxpayers should be aware that there are often hidden costs and cost overruns on rail projects. He encouraged Minnesota policymakers to consider bus rapid transit projects on shared use and right-of-way with cars and trucks in the future to limit costs and disruptions, especially as he predicts transit ridership won’t return to pre-pandemic levels.

“If we’re lucky, transit ridership maybe will recover to 80% of what it was by 2025, but I think even that is unrealistic,” he said. “These are the type of projects that we just don’t really have the funds to be doing, and when you see the other disruptions that happen due to the construction, there are real effects on people’s lives that just makes them an even worse choice of funding, in my opinion.”

He said any type of problem encountered during construction will increase costs.

“In addition to stopping work on the line in order to figure out what’s going on with this building, somebody is going to have to pay to fix this building,” he said. “And it’s not going to be the folks who own there. It’s going to be the taxpayers in Minnesota.”

Wendell Cox, a transportation analyst who has consulted for private and public sector high-rail trains in six countries and has served a term on the Amtrak Reform Council in 1999, told The Center Square in an emailed statement Wednesday that while he hasn’t followed the project, he’s not surprised at the cost overruns.

“[Cost overruns are] fairly normal in transit rail projects (and they often fall short of ridership projections),” he wrote. “The new reality of transit, with the exodus to remote work (with some suggesting downtown work weeks of three days … with the other two at home) and the greatly reduced ridership only illustrates the difficulty such projects face.”

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