Hennepin County is going ahead with plans to build a $79.3 million transit hub near Target Field in downtown Minneapolis' North Loop area, even though the project is still an estimated $22 million short in funding.
To plug that gap, commissioners decided Tuesday to use money from Hennepin's general fund and said they expected to eventually cover at least two-thirds of the shortfall through parking revenue, contingency funds, leasing and naming fees.
Meeting in committee, the board in a series of 5 to 1 votes opted to push ahead with the Interchange project now so that it can be finished in time for the arrival of Central Corridor light-rail trains at Target Field in 2014.
It also chose the contractor recommended to design and build the transit hub, Knutson Construction of St. Louis Park. The losing finalist, M.A. Mortenson Construction of Golden Valley, built Target Field and the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium.
"We're going to be authorizing the creation of something great for this county, something that we can be proud of," said Commissioner Peter McLaughlin, who chairs the county railroad authority. "It'll be great for transit, it'll be a great public space, it'll be a catalyst for development."
Having the county front the money to cover the funding gap, McLaughlin said, was "a reasonable, responsible risk."
But Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who long has expressed skepticism about the scope of the project, voted against it and said he was frustrated by the steady rise in the cost and the county's portion of it.
"It's a beautiful plan, but I think it's much more than what we need to spend, " Johnson said.
Under the plan approved by the board, Hennepin will pay for nearly half the cost, or $39.1 million. The balance will come from $17.2 million in state bonding, $10.5 million in federal grants, $10 million from the Metropolitan Council, $1.5 million from the Minnesota Ballpark Authority, $500,000 from Minneapolis and $500,000 from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization.
The Interchange will include a large plaza and train platform, a parking ramp, storage tracks for light-rail cars and "a vertical circulator" to move passengers between local trains on the tracks above and the Northstar commuter line on tracks below. By 2014, 500 light-rail trains are expected to arrive and leave daily.
Commissioners are expected to ratify the vote next week when they meet as the board and the rail authority.
Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455