LRT project gets a positive sign from D.C

Published 8:05 am Tuesday, May 2, 2017

By Janet Moore

Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Southwest light-rail line was allocated $10 million in the temporary federal budget being now considered by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. — news that the Metropolitan Council sees as a sign the project will win its full $928 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration later this year.

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The fate of the $1.9 billion line, which would connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, had been unclear since President Donald Trump’s initial transportation budget proposal did not fund mass transit projects in the new fiscal year. Without the federal money, it was unlikely that Southwest could move forward.

But the $1.1 trillion budget deal struck by Washington lawmakers Sunday indicates that Southwest is one of four transit projects in the works that are expected to get “full funding grant agreement awards in 2017.” The bipartisan budget deal is expected to be voted on later this week.

Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said in a statement Monday, “This is encouraging news. The inclusion of [Southwest] in the proposed budget is an indication that the federal delegation understands this project is a key piece of our region’s transportation infrastructure. This type of federal backing does not occur without broad support from the local community and a strong case for a successful project.”

For Southwest to qualify for federal funds, it must first secure half of the capital costs from local sources, in this case Hennepin County, the state, and the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), which levies a local sales tax for transit.

The Met Council may be part of that funding picture, if it resorts to issuing $103.5 million in certificates of participation, a financial tool occasionally used by public bodies for big projects.

A lawsuit filed by local residents seeking to block the project is pending in federal court, however.

If Southwest is built, construction would begin this summer, with passenger service expected to start in 2021. The Met Council says the line will connect transit riders to over 64,000 jobs and create 7500 construction jobs with a payroll of more than $350 million.