Legislative Auditor stands by critical SWLRT report; audit coming in the fall
The Minnesota Legislative Auditor says she was surprised by pushback from the Metropolitan Council chairman regarding the report from her office, which found the council failed to hold contractors accountable for cost overruns and construction change orders for the Southwest Light Rail Transit project.
“They didn’t enforce the contracts,” Legislative Auditor Judy Randall said in an interview on “At Issue with Tom Hauser.”
Randall also stands by the assertion that the Met Council was reluctant to stand up to contractors for fear they might walk away from the project, saying, “it’s certainly what was guiding their lack of willingness to enforce this contract.”
The program evaluation from her office indicates there have been 658 construction “change orders” totaling nearly $220 million.
At a current estimate of $2.7 billion, the project is nearly $1.5 billion over its original budget of $1.25 billion.
Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle told the Legislative Audit Commission this week the original budget was never realistic.
“This actual project is costing more because it always was going to cost more,” Zelle said Wednesday. “It was underbudgeted.”
Republican Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, found that hard to believe. “There’s been no accountability in this entire process,” he said. “The decisions about a tunnel, no tunnel, whatever those were, those were decisions that had consequences. They weren’t made by this body. They were made by people who spent 20 years deciding the paths and opportunities and what are the risks…”
Randall told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the Southwest Light Rail situation would likely increase scrutiny of all Met Council operations.
“We have had conversations with the legislature for over a decade about the composition of the Metropolitan Council,” Randall said. “It’s a body of appointed, not elected folks, who then are making these big decisions and not necessarily acting it doesn’t seem in the best interests of taxpayers always.”
Randall said a financial audit tracking how all the money has been spent is likely to be released by her office in the fall.
You can see the entire interview with Judy Randall on At Issue at 10 a.m. Sunday morning.