An agreement to close an estimated $272 million shortfall in the Southwest light-rail project budget has drawn criticism from some members of the Metropolitan Council, who said they weren't consulted before the deal was announced last week.

The $2.7 billion Southwest line — the most-expensive public works project in state history — is slated to connect downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie beginning in 2027.

But Met Council members, facing intense scrutiny about the way they oversee public transportation projects in the Twin Cities, have paused planning on light-rail projects to collect more information before a key decision next month on funding the Blue Line Extension — giving them more time to look at the bigger financial picture.

Questions about Southwest funding cropped up during council meetings last week regarding a $75 million Hennepin County grant for the Blue Line light-rail extension, which is forecast to connect Brooklyn Park with downtown Minneapolis in 2030.

"I have concerns about post-COVID ridership and building two [light-rail] megaprojects at a time," said Council Member Deb Barber, who represents southwestern metro suburbs in Carver and Scott counties.

While Barber, who chairs the council's Transportation Committee, said she supports extending the Blue Line, she said council members need more time to consider the projects "so we know what we're voting on."

Council Member Judy Johnson, who represents northwest Hennepin County, agreed: "I think it's important that the council take a breath and be deliberate."

The Southwest project, which is about 75% complete, has been plagued with cost overruns and delays since construction started in 2018. The agreement announced last week between the Met Council and Hennepin County outlined how they might cover the project's deficit, though the amount of money needed to finish the job was not released.

Under the agreement, Hennepin County would pick up 55% of the cost to complete Southwest, with the council covering the rest using federal funds set aside for transportation purposes.

The council would also pay an additional — but undetermined — amount in start-up costs, which includes testing trains before service begins, along with the hiring and training of operators.

The Southwest agreement is expected to be considered by both the council and the Hennepin County Board, though it's unclear when that will happen.

But at several Met Council meetings last week, some members expressed frustration with the proposal and said it wasn't properly vetted before it was announced.

Others said they worried the federal funds going to Southwest for the next three years will mean additional transportation projects throughout the seven-county metro will get short shrift — including a longstanding goal to add more electric buses to Metro Transit's fleet.

The ensuing discussion at various meetings was a rare break for council members, who generally agree with staff-directed recommendations.

It was unclear who negotiated the Southwest agreement with Hennepin County; Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle did not attend the council meetings last week.

But Council Member Wendy Wulff, who represents southwest Dakota County and Savage, said they were faced with "what appears to be a bad agreement."

"We have to hold firm and get to a good agreement," she said. "We're not going to be the rubber stamps everyone thinks we are."

The deal drew criticism from beyond the council as well.

Rep. Brad Tabke, DFL-Shakopee, said Friday he was concerned that devoting much of the council's federal funds to Southwest will shortchange the transportation needs of the southwest metro communities he represents.

"We can find a funding solution that supports the completion of the Southwest light rail — and Blue Line Extension — without sacrificing other important regional projects," said Tabke, vice chair of the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

The Southwest announcement "was so out of left field and completely lacking in context," said Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who was instrumental in getting the state's Legislative Auditor to probe the Southwest project and formation of a statewide task force that is reviewing the council's governance structure.

"Where is the announcement that [the council] is reforming themselves so they can effectively manage these projects?" Dibble asked.

In response, Met Council spokesman John Schadl said: "The Blue Line Extension is a critical component of our regional transportation system." He said the council will resume consideration of the Blue Line grant agreement with Hennepin County, along with Southwest's budget, at its Sept. 13 meeting.