The cost of building the Southwest light-rail line could include more than $100 million to satisfy a wish list that cities along the route say would attract more riders and benefit their communities.
Trail bridges or underpasses, better parking near stations, a bike facility with showers, a civic plaza and elevators are among enhancements under consideration by the Metropolitan Council, the agency overseeing planning and construction of the Southwest line to run nearly 16 miles from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
Those items are not included among the essential expenses of the estimated project budget, which has grown from $1.25 billion to between $1.58 billion and $1.82 billion. But unused contingency funds or other savings could pay for some improvements, along with funds from the cities and private developers.
The wish list, called “betterments,” comes from Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis — all of the cities where the light rail will run. Hennepin County and the Three Rivers Park District also submitted proposals. The list was presented Wednesday at a meeting of representatives of the areas affected by the Southwest LRT.
Edina Mayor Jim Hovland said many of the items seem worthy of inclusion in the original budget and questioned why their costs surfaced recently.
“Who decided that these were all ‘betterments?’ ” he asked. “I wish we would have had this conversation a while back.”
Met Council Chair Susan Haigh called the items “enhancements,” noting, “We have limited and constrained resources.”
One Minneapolis proposal would spend $5 million to $6 million on an elevator and stairs north and south of the West Lake Street bridge to reach a nearby train station that’s expected to be the second-busiest on the line.
Hopkins wants to build a civic plaza at a station and the $4.5 million to $5 million cost “includes lighting, landscaping, architectural features and amenities, enhanced bus shelters … bike facility with bathrooms and showers, water fountains.”
St. Louis Park proposes building the LRT and adjacent freight and recreation trails over Beltline road at a cost of as much as $23 million, or just a trail overpass for up to $4 million.
The Met Council also is considering how to trim costs. It said as much as $60 million could be shaved if a shallow tunnel under consideration for the Kenilworth Corridor in Minneapolis did not extend north of a channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake.
But that idea would leave the LRT running for too long above ground in Kenilworth alongside freight trains and trails, said Peter Wagenius, an aide to Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. “Please know how hard the presence of that makes moving forward on this project,” he said.
The Met Council has focused most of its recent attention on two proposals for building tunnels in Kenilworth to hide the LRT and a proposal for a berm in St. Louis Park to reroute freight traffic to make room for it.
But Hovland has pushed to keep five other options on the table, including the possibility of locating the freight, LRT and trails at ground level in Kenilworth, which at $55 million would be far less expensive than tunnels or the berm, which carry estimates from $150 million to $330 million. “It’s important to understand every option, and the cost of every option,” Hovland said.
Haigh said all eight options remained “on the table.”
Wagenius said locating freight, light-rail and trails next to each other would renege on promises made to Minneapolis in exchange for its support, and would trigger opposition that could kill the LRT project.
“I can’t see a scenario where the City Council in Minneapolis would approve something that is a violation of the commitments made to the community over the past 20 years,” he said.