Community leaders are closing in on options needed to chop $341 million from the Southwest Corridor light-rail line plans by July.
On Wednesday, city and county leaders assessed the possible cuts and the big question: Where to end the line? The group informally dismissed two of four scenarios that would end the line at two stations in Eden Prairie because they wouldn’t save enough money in the $2 billion transit project and would disproportionately affect the southwestern suburb.
“It was an important step forward,” said Adam Duininck, who chairs the Metropolitan Council and the committee. “And we’re helping lay a good framework.”
The Southwest Corridor Management Committee, a 17-member group of officials with ties to the five cities along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — and Metro Transit staff members are charged with cutting the $341 million from the 16-mile line’s costs while making the project viable by attracting about 30,000 riders each day, all while reaching a consensus among the communities along the line.
No decisions were made at Wednesday’s meeting, and no options have been formally rejected. The group will meet again on June 24 to continue whittling down ideas before a scheduled July 1 vote.
“It’s been painful getting this through everywhere,” Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens said about the light-rail line after the meeting. “We’ve all had to compromise.”
She should know. Some of the most major cuts have involved eliminating one or more of five stations in her city.
2 stations may be safe
On Wednesday, the committee informally dismissed a scenario that would end the line at the Southwest Station off Technology Drive, west of Prairie Center Drive. It’s the second-to-last stop listed in the current preferred route. Ending at Southwest station and making other cuts along the line would save $300 million to $337 million, less than the amount needed.
The committee also dismissed ending the line at the Golden Triangle station, off W. 70th Street between Shady Oak Road and Flying Cloud Drive; in that scenario, cutting the station and making other cuts along the whole line would reduce $384 million to $391 million from the project, but Eden Prairie would bear the brunt of the cuts.
“It’s frustrating; we’ve giving up a lot in Eden Prairie,” Tyra-Lukens said after the meeting. “It’s the logical place to make the cuts. But I think all of us need to share the burden.”
She made her pitch Wednesday for ending the line at the Town Center station, which she said draws the most transit-dependent population in the west-metro suburb, with higher densities of senior citizens and low-income residents as well as 5,400 employees within a half-mile area. Ending the line there and making other cuts, including Minneapolis’ Royalston and Penn stations, would save $365 million to $442 million, depending on whether the Eden Prairie station was at Eden Road or at Flying Cloud Drive.
“It’s got to be a difficult place to be at the end of the line like that; it’s a difficult balance,” Duininck said.
Minneapolis doesn’t like many of the cost-cutting scenarios, included cutting or delaying Minneapolis’ Royalston and Penn stations. That option would force bus riders to make more transfers, said Peter Wagenius, the city’s public policy director.
‘Give and take’
Smaller proposed trims include limiting landscaping; putting in fewer pedestrian underpasses, bridges, park-and-ride stations and less public art at the line’s 17 stations, and reconfiguring a maintenance facility.
Wednesday’s meeting follows the Met Council’s analysis in April that found that the original $1.65 billion cost of the transit line had increased by $341 million. The hike was attributed to poor ground conditions along its path, increased costs associated with property acquisitions, and soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins.
The news provoked a “shocked and appalled” Gov. Mark Dayton to express “serious questions about its viability and affordability.” As a result, the state’s largest transportation project will be delayed by a year, opening sometime in 2020.
“There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered,” Tyra-Lukens said. “And there’s a lot of give and take.”