At 8:10 a.m. on Monday, April 27, the Metropolitan Council released the startling news that the price tag of the proposed Southwest light-rail line had increased by $341 million to $2 billion.
Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said in a news release at the time that “all options are on the table,” including not building the line at all. E-mails among Duininck, Metro Transit officials and other political players — including Gov. Mark Dayton — obtained through a Minnesota Data Practices Act request reflect the behind-the-scenes positioning in the days leading to the announcement.
The 231 pages of e-mails don’t explain why the project cost ballooned, but they do show the machinations to craft appropriate “messaging” to constituents, the media and taxpayers who are largely funding the project.
“Note that for the news release, I will NOT be saying it is a worthy project,” Duininck, wrote in an April 25 e-mail to Dayton’s staff, including Joanna Dornfeld, assistant chief of staff; Linden Zakula, deputy chief of staff, and Jaime Tincher, chief of staff (also Duininck’s wife). “I will be much less committed than that.”
A day later, drafts of briefing materials and a news release were distributed to Duininck for review. “There is too much certainty in our tone that the project is worthy and must proceed,” he wrote.
At one point, Metro Transit Deputy Director Mark Fuhrmann sent along a list of transit projects in Maryland also with bloated costs. But that was nixed by Zakula. “The comparable projects just aren’t compelling enough,” he said.
Dayton wrote on April 26: “I just spoke with [Senate Majority Leader Tom] Bakk. He wasn’t pleased, but took it in stride. He said he was sitting on his dock, enjoying the view of Lake Vermilion. I think it helps him put it in perspective!”
Eden Prairie Mayor Nancy Tyra-Lukens sent Fuhrmann an e-mail with a link to a spoof on the streets.mn blog with the headline: “Southwest LRT Planners Resolve Final Lawsuit by Eliminating Last 15 Stations.”
Fuhrmann replied, “Thankfully, the dateline is April Fools’ Day. It is good therapy to exercise the smile muscles.”