Some 84 Republican legislators at the Minnesota Capitol have signed a letter urging U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to block federal funding for the Southwest light-rail line.
In a March 17 letter, released Wednesday, the legislators cite a number of issues facing the controversial $1.9 billion transit project, which would link downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie.
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is expected to pay for half of the project’s $1.9 billion price tag, about $928 million.
Additional investment “would be counterproductive to the state of Minnesota’s transportation and environmental interests, and would recklessly consume scarce transit resources well into the future for a project that fails on so many counts,” the letter states.
The missive comes as the Metropolitan Council prepares to submit its funding application for Southwest to the FTA in July, with approval expected by December. However, President Donald Trump’s budget calls for the elimination of such grants beginning Oct. 1 — the start of the federal fiscal year.
As of Dec. 31, 2016, about $159 million had been spent on the Southwest project.
Met Council chair Adam Duininck expressed frustration that legislators are “using this project and the Met Council as a piñata.” He worries if projects like Southwest fail to move forward, mobility options for metro residents will be severely limited. “Not everyone can afford a car,” Duininck said.
The legislators’ letter to Chao questions the Met Council’s use of a financial instrument called “certificates of participation” to help fund the local share of the project. This was done after the state failed in recent years to fund its expected 10 percent share for the project. Duininck said the certificates are “not an ideal solution,” but noted other funding alternatives were rejected by Republican leaders.
Legislators also expressed concern about future state funds being used to operate the line, which contemplates beginning passenger service in 2021. The letter cites a pending lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the project’s environmental review, and questions the Met Council’s ridership projections.
The council said it has done extensive outreach while planning the Southwest project, including 870 public meetings attended by about 28,000 people. The Met Council says all five cities along the line — Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie — have adopted resolutions supporting it.