But after a week of feverish negotiations, a new plan was embraced by a Metropolitan Council advisory committee on Wednesday to cut $250 million from the transit project, in part by ending the line at the Southwest station transit hub in Eden Prairie. The project’s cost is now $1.74 billion, and the regional planning body will vote on the new budget July 8.
That’s still about $90 million short of an original goal to cut $341 million in costs. So stakeholders from all of the cities along the route except Minneapolis — Eden Prairie, Hopkins, Minnetonka and St. Louis Park — pledged to contribute more from their own municipal coffers, assuming their respective boards and councils will agree. If that happens, the federal government will match their stepped-up contributions.
In addition, Hennepin County is expected to add another $8 million to the project, and its regional rail authority will donate land worth $30 million along the rail corridor stretching from Minneapolis to the suburban Shady Oak station. The land donation will attract an additional $30 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).
After weeks of often-fraught debate, the Southwest Corridor Management Committee ended Wednesday’s meeting on a giddy note. It “could have gone in a lot of different ways this morning,” said Met Council Chairman Adam Duininck. “Ultimately, we emerged with a strong consensus.”
The budget problem surfaced in April when the Met Council revealed that costs had soared due to poor soil conditions along the 16-mile route, as well as contaminated land in St. Louis Park and Hopkins. The increase also was attributed to additional design work needed for wetlands along the route, and a greater number of property acquisitions required to clear the way.
The project’s completion date was delayed from 2019 to 2020 as a result of the budget woes.
The advisory committee embraced the notion that there should be a “shared sacrifice” among all the cities in the project’s wake, but it soon became clear that Eden Prairie would bear the brunt of the cuts. In the end, the line’s final station at Mitchell Road was eliminated, and the stop at Town Center near the city’s busy commercial district was deferred — actions likely to trigger another review by the City Council.
Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens supported ending the line at Southwest station, already a big bus hub. An additional 450-space parking ramp will be added to accommodate the influx of light rail.
“I think we are enough of a team player to realize we are going to take the brunt of the cuts,” Tyra-Lukens said in a recent interview. “But that doesn’t mean that other cities can’t sacrifice, too.”
On Wednesday, the hat was passed to gin up more funds: Eden Prairie donated city-owned land worth $3 million; Minnetonka and St. Louis Park each pledged $2 million; Hopkins chipped in $500,000.
Noticeably missing from the fiscal round robin was Minneapolis, which has five stops along the line. Peter Wagenius, the city’s policy director, said eliminating a tunnel from the Kenilworth corridor between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles in a deal struck last year already saved the project $30 million. A $12 million bike bridge along the Cedar Lake Trail in the city was cut in the most recent round, as well.
Even with the additional local largesse, the project is still short on funds. But Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, a key power broker in the deal, said he was confident more money will surface — and soon. “It’s a little bit like threading a needle here,” he said.
Other cuts include reducing station furnishings and landscaping, eliminating public art, retooling a maintenance facility and buying five fewer light-rail cars, which alone will save up to $30 million. Several park-and-ride facilities were scaled back or eliminated, which could save close to $30 million.
Gov. Mark Dayton, who was “shocked and appalled” last spring when the budget overrun was announced, said Wednesday that he was glad there was a compromise. But he said he’s concerned that “when you start eliminating stations, you affect ridership.” He said he’ll meet with key stakeholders in the next few days to ensure that’s not the case.
Ending the line at the Southwest station still ensures an average weekday ridership of 34,100 people, more than the 30,000 riders required to qualify for federal funding.
Members of the Met Council late Wednesday were briefed on the proposal, and some were worried about the scope of the cuts and the timing of the final vote next week.
Council Member Jon Commers said cutting back on landscaping and public art could sully the transit experience and discourage riders from using the line. And member Steven Chavez wondered whether the Met Council’s final vote should be delayed until local funding is shored up.
That notion was nixed — Metro Transit must apply for federal funds by Aug. 3, and the application must indicate that local bodies back the project financially.
As originally planned, half of the Southwest line would be funded by the FTA, with 30 percent ($496 million) coming from a regional transit board and the remaining 20 percent split between the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority and the state.