Southwest Light Rail Back on Track with New Funding

September 01, 2016 11:46 AM

Fewer than two weeks after Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt proclaimed "Southwest Light Rail is dead," it came back to life on Wednesday.

Three local government entities voted to finance the remaining $144.5 million in local funding needed to keep the project on track.


Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck called it a "big day for our transit system" as the council voted to put the final piece of funding in place.

The Met Council will issue $103.5 million-worth of "certificates of participation" (COP), which are similar to municipal bonds. The council will finance $91.75 million of that with the other $11.75 million financed by the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB). CTIB will also kick in another $20.5 million and the Hennepin County Railroad Authority voted Tuesday to also put in another $20.5 million.

"This is not a good option that we're talking about here today," Duininck said at a CTIB meeting Wednesday morning. "This is a bad option. There are much better options to fund the rest of Southwest LRT and hopefully there's a chance to revisit how we fund transit in general next (legislative) session."

It's unclear how far they will get with transit funding next year if Republicans remain in control of the House.  GOP Rep. Tony Albright of Prior Lake, a Southwest LRT opponent, said last week the local funding options were an "end run" around the legislative process. He was critical of the Met Council actions after Wednesday's vote.

"The governor's decision to move forward with this $2 billion train will undoubtedly mean property tax increases for Hennepin County families and put Minnesotans in all corners of the state on the hook for millions in permanent operating losses," he said in a statement. "This project is expensive and irresponsible and will do next to nothing to reduce congestion."

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who also sits on the CTIB board, said with $140 million already spent on the project action needed to be taken to keep the project going.

"This is the needle we need to thread," he said at the CTIB meeting before they voted to authorize their portion of the funding, "if we want this project to go forward and go forward in a responsible way and avoid the inevitable increases in cost."

The project is projected to cost nearly $1.9 billion. Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman said that price is now locked in and cannot go up without starting over on the whole financing plan.

The next step in the Southwest LRT project will be to apply for $900 million or so in federal funding that is expected to be approved now that local funding is in place. The Met Council could also begin ordering LRT cars as early as this fall.


Tom Hauser

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