Met Council says SWLRT funding gap is resolved
The planning agency overseeing the multi-billion-dollar Southwest Light Rail project, which has been bogged down with delays, cost increases, and questions about damage to nearby condo buildings in Minneapolis, says it has resolved a funding deficit for the oft-criticized plan.
The Metropolitan Council said Monday that it, in partnership with Hennepin County, has resolved the funding gap for the Green Line Extension Light Rail Transit Line, more commonly referred to as the Southwest Light Rail project.
Earlier this spring, a Met Council spokesperson told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS the project’s funding gap was $272 million. Now, there is a gap of more than $160 million.
The council and county have been in talks for months to find funding sources for the $2.7 billion project, the Met Council says, with the final agreement stating that each side will equally share the burden of funding the gap in capital and startup costs.
Met Council will handle the startup costs prior to the line opening and 45% of the funds needed to finish construction. That money will mainly come from federal capital formula program funds over the next three years, the agency says.
The county then will cover 55% of the capital costs from its transit sales tax.
The Met Council says the agreement still has to be approved by its own agency as well as the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners.
The announcement comes following an effort from lawmakers to overhaul the Met Council and a report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor that was critical of the Southwest Light Rail project. The office is still expected to release a financial audit of the project this fall, and while the overhaul effort failed, a task force is set to look at potential changes to the council this winter.
Both the Met Council and Hennepin County declined interview requests to talk about this announcement but the county told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS:
“We believe strongly in the long-term value of the Green Line Extension to connect residents to opportunities, reduce disparities, combat climate change, and carry our state into the future. This project will bring immense value to our entire state and has already spurred billions in economic development. This project will have transformational benefits for generations to come.”
Rep. John Petersburg, the Republican lead in the Minnesota House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee, released the following statement:
“While it’s nice to hear how the additional costs of the Southwest Light Rail boondoggle are going to be paid for, it’s unfortunate that taxpayers will be on the hook. This predicament could have easily been avoided if Governor Walz and his Met Council appointees had not rubber-stamped every project cost overrun. Because of these poor decisions, this project has nearly doubled in cost and is still years away from completion.”