The Southwest light-rail line continues to face serious legal and financial challenges, but on Wednesday, stakeholders began discussing an actual timeline for construction of the $1.77 billion project.
“It’s not too early to talk about construction on this project,” said Craig Lamothe, project director, at a Southwest LRT Corridor Management Committee meeting.
Construction of the 14 ½-mile line — the biggest public works project in state history — will begin in 2017 and last two years. The transit line linking downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie is slated to open in 2020, a year later than originally forecast.
This is fortuitous timing in construction terms — the Vikings stadium in Minneapolis and the St. Croix River bridge near Stillwater are expected to be completed by late 2016, freeing up thousands of building trades workers and engineers.
“There will be hundreds of subcontractors hungry for work going into 2017,” said Mark Fuhrmann, Metro Transit’s deputy general manager. The project is expected to create at least 5,500 jobs.
Dave Semerad, CEO of Associated General Contractors of Minnesota, said Southwest’s construction workforce will likely be different from those working on stadium or bridge work. “But I don’t see the project being held up because of workforce issues,” he said. “It’s a major project.”
While nearly $731 million from local sources has been committed to the project, the Metropolitan Council failed to nail down the state’s remaining contribution of $138 million in the last legislative session. Some lawmakers were skeptical of the project after costs soared last spring.
When asked if there was a contingency plan should the state not ante its share, Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said, “There really isn’t one.
“My hope is that no one will stop it,” he said. “If that happens, it will force other decisions.” Every year the project is delayed increases the overall price tag by $50 million.
Beyond the state’s portion, the project is short $18.5 million from local coffers. Where that amount will come from remains unclear. Fuhrmann said several cities along the line will either donate more money or land to make up the difference. Either way, this must be determined by year’s end.
The Federal Transit Administration is expected to pay the rest.
Beyond financial concerns, the Southwest project faces two lingering legal challenges.
The Lakes and Parks Alliance filed suit last year claiming the Met Council violated federal environmental laws in selecting the route for the line.
A second federal lawsuit by a group of Minnetonka residents is set for a hearing in October.
And, because the price increase caused several substantive changes, including the deletion and deferral of two stations in Eden Prairie, state law triggers another round of “municipal consent” for Minneapolis, Eden Prairie, Hopkins, St. Louis Park, Minnetonka and Hennepin County. That process, which involves local bodies voting on the project again after holding a public hearing, won’t be completed until late September.
Metro Transit plans to hold an information session for construction firms and contractors in October.