$10M leaves Hennepin County rail hub short

Hennepin County's plans to build a rail transit hub at Target Field in downtown Minneapolis have been boosted with a $10 million federal construction grant but remain $30 million short of what officials need to break ground on the $67.7 million project.

The $10 million federal grant, which officials will highlight in a visit Thursday morning to the proposed Interchange site near the ballpark, was one of 46 projects across the country announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Other regional winners were Northfield, which received $1.06 million to build a downtown pedestrian crossing area at Hwy. 3, and a $100 million North Dakota project that won a $10 million grant to raise 15 miles of rail track above flood level near Devils Lake.

Hennepin County had hoped for as much as $25 million in federal money for the Interchange project, which it hopes to complete to handle increased light-rail traffic at Target Field by the time the new Central Corridor light-rail line reaches the ballpark in 2014. The area near the Farmers Market is also under consideration as a possible location for a new Minnesota Vikings football stadium.

Project manager Ed Hunter said he doesn't expect all the financing to be in hand by March, after the County Board expects to get design-build construction proposals.

County Board Chair Mike Opat said that Hennepin County will continue to seek public and private funding, particularly state money for what he said is widely considered "a very important state asset."

The federal grant, Opat said, was "great progress and we're still going to plan for a first-rate facility."

Commissioner Jeff Johnson last month raised questions about moving ahead with the project despite an incomplete financing plan. Johnson said such a strategy puts county taxpayers at risk for covering more of the cost than planned.

But Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, chair of the county's rail authority, replied that the county would halt planning if adequate funding can't be found.

The county already has revised the project's estimated cost downward from an earlier $86 million by paring back its scope and factoring in flat construction costs.

The Interchange project last summer was awarded $11 million by the Metropolitan Council. It also received $6.7 million from the county rail authority and $1.7 million from the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, which owns Target Field.

The project includes a new passenger platform, extended tracks for railcar storage and a new plaza outside the Target Field station.

Hunter said that the new interchange will handle 20,000 riders per day, enough for two future rail routes planned to serve the southwest and northwest suburbs.

The project also includes building 400 parking spaces under the plaza area, something that Hunter said would be harder to add later. He said parking charges could help finance the underground facility.

A new lower-level building is also planned to house offices for the adjacent downtown garbage burner after the county tears down an existing office building next to the burner.

Hunter said the county is putting on hold additional improvements that would accommodate more commuter lines serving the area beyond the existing Northstar Line. That reflects tightened state and federal funding prospects for commuter rail, he said.

kduchschere@startribune.com • 612-673-4455 sbrandt@startribune.com • 612-673-4438

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