Plans for the $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail line came under fire at a legislative hearing Wednesday, as lawmakers questioned the bidding process for its construction and how the project will affect a unique condominium complex in Minneapolis.
It’s unclear whether the Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Governance, created to oversee the Metropolitan Council, will issue recommendations in the coming weeks on the topics explored during the nearly three-hour hearing. Sen. Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake, its chair, said any recommendation would be nonbinding.
Still, the council, which would build and operate Southwest, faced tough questions from lawmakers and pointed testimony from those testifying about how the project is being managed. The 14.5-mile line would connect downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie, with passenger service slated to begin in 2023.
Representatives from the Calhoun Isles Condominium Association encouraged the council to conduct an independent vibrations study to determine how construction and operation of the light-rail line would affect their homes, located along the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis. A portion of the complex includes high-rise grain silos dating back a century.
The Southwest line will run in a shallow tunnel within 2 feet of Calhoun Isles’ high-rise silo footings, and 45 feet from adjacent townhouses.
Residents grew concerned after construction of an apartment complex on the former Tryg’s restaurant site in 2015 caused $30,000 in property damage.
Since then, the condo association spent $100,000 in legal and engineering costs to assess the potential risk of Southwest, which will run 200 trains a day along the route. An engineering study paid for by the association found that the high-rise condos are especially susceptible to vibration damage.
But Jim Alexander, Southwest’s project director, questioned whether the damage was related to the Tryg’s project and noted a different type of construction process was used. He said there’s no need for further study, adding the council met with Calhoun Isles residents 14 times since August 2013 to discuss concerns.
“What happens if you’re wrong?” asked Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, referring to the Met Council’s claim that further study is unnecessary. “I hear dismissive. I hear arrogance and hubris.” Alexander refuted that claim.
The commission Tuesday also looked at Southwest’s bidding process. Thirty-six design and engineering firms were barred from working on the construction portion of the project because they had done work early in the planning process. The council believes their involvement early in the process could be a conflict of interest.
But trade groups representing engineers and contractors, as well as some of the firms that were barred from participating, asked why the council couldn’t review each firm’s perceived conflict individually. If a conflict is found, then the firms could be given the opportunity to mitigate any potential issues.