The bid package to build the $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail line has been retooled again, causing the Metropolitan Council to further delay the project, pushing its opening for passenger service to 2023 instead of 2022.
The changes announced Tuesday were partly caused by the late addition of a $20 million crash-protection wall separating freight and light-rail trains along a rail corridor just west of Target Field. The wall was required by BNSF Railway, which owns the rail right of way between the Royalston Avenue/Farmers Market and Bryn Mawr stations.
As a result, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and Minnesota legislative leaders pushed for more environmental studies to see how the wall, which will be 10 feet high in spots, will affect the area. There will be 45 days for public review and comment.
The additional environmental work must be completed before the Met Council can award the construction contract, the amount of which has not been released publicly. Bids are due May 3 rather than Jan. 9.
The 14.5-mile line, an extension of the existing Green Line, will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie. The FTA is expected to pay for half of the project’s cost, with local sources making up the rest.
The first round of bids to build the project, which ranged from $797 million to $1.08 billion, were thrown out by the council because they were too costly and “unresponsive.”
This caused a four-month delay, adding $12 million to $16 million to the project budget. It’s unclear how much the delay in bidding announced Tuesday will add to the project, and whether that will increase the overall $1.9 billion price tag.
Tuesday’s news from the Met Council prompted Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, who chairs the House Transportation Committee, to question the Southwest project’s viability.
The “announcement is yet another reminder of how profoundly expensive and chaotic the Southwest Light Rail process has been,” Torkelson said. “Every month that goes by means significant additional costs to Minnesota taxpayers — I think it’s time for an honest conversation about whether it’s prudent to keep sinking tax dollars into a project whose federal funding remains uncertain at best.”
The council said the first construction bids were deemed unresponsive because 36 subcontractors who did early design and engineering work on the project were included in some of the construction bids. To avoid an appearance of a conflict of interest, they were barred from working on the construction phase of the project.
On Tuesday, Met Council Chairwoman Alene Tchourumoff said in a statement the retooled bid package will provide “better project management and control while addressing some concerns raised by the contracting and engineering communities.”