A $929 million federal grant to help pay for construction of the Southwest light-rail line has advanced to Congress, a critical step in the funding pipeline for the $2 billion project.
The proposed 14.5-mile line linking downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie — through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka — is already under construction and slated to begin passenger service in 2023.
The long-awaited money from the Federal Transit Administration, if approved by Congress within the next month, would help ensure that Southwest is completed with a mix of federal, state and local funds.
Southwest, the biggest public works project in state history, is expected to create 7,500 jobs with a payroll of about $350 million, according to the Metropolitan Council.
“This is incredible news for the Twin Cities and state of Minnesota,” Gov. Tim Walz said in a statement, calling the project “transformative.”
Following Wednesday’s “signal of intent” by the Trump administration, the Southwest grant now heads to Congress for approval in a review that lasts 30 days.
Met Council Chairman Charlie Zelle, who said in an interview he was “thrilled” by the news, refrained from a full-bore celebration on Wednesday.
“I’ve been told [congressional review] is fairly perfunctory,” he said. “Having said that, I don’t want to take it for granted.”
If the grant passes congressional muster, the amount from federal sources is locked in — meaning if there are cost overruns during construction it’s up to local funders to make up the difference. To date, $727 million in local funds has been spent building Southwest, according to the council.
Zelle said the project has enjoyed strong support from large and small businesses along its route.
But it has also been controversial among some residents living near its path. Five years ago, residents in Minneapolis sued the council and others, claiming the project violated federal environmental laws. The legal challenge was later dismissed.
Last month, residents grew alarmed when a construction crane partly toppled in the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis. The council attributed the incident to operator error. No one was hurt.
Zelle acknowledged that “large infrastructure projects are very disruptive as you build them, but they have a generational impact in the long term.”
Southwest is considered an extension of the existing Green Line, which links the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Once Southwest is built, passengers could travel from Eden Prairie to downtown St. Paul without switching trains, although the trip would take about 80 minutes.
Earlier this week, the council abandoned plans for the Bottineau Blue Line extension to share much of its route with freight rail, opting to explore a different alignment in north Minneapolis and the northwestern suburbs. The existing Blue Line — the Twin Cities’ first light-rail line — connects downtown Minneapolis to the Mall of America.
Southwest is “a critical leg of our planned light rail network that will work alongside our roads, bridges, bikeways and walkways to carry our region into the future and prepare us for long-term growth and success,” said Hennepin County Commissioner Jan Callison, in a statement.
Callison said she’s confident members of Congress “will also see the incredible value this project provides for the communities it will serve, the Twin Cities region, and the state of Minnesota.”