New numbers raise prospects for southwest light rail

Light rail car
A light rail car runs along the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis.
MPR file photo

New ridership projections for a proposed light rail line in the southwestern Twin Cities remain strong. However, the numbers released today raise concerns about the cost of the line.

Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman says a southwest corridor line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie would carry almost as many passengers each day as the region's existing light rail service.

"The numbers that were reported today were in the range of 30,000 a day, which is very competitive and very similar to what we're actually seeing on Hiawatha," she said.

Dorfman says the projections would be even higher if "reverse commuters" are counted - people from Minneapolis riding to jobs in the suburbs.

"We saw approximately 9,000 a day in a reverse commute," she said. "The city council member who sits on the policy advisory committee from Eden Prairie thought those numbers might in fact be low and not account for things like United Health campus, which is a proposed redevelopment with significant jobs."

The Southwest line would carry passengers from downtown Minneapolis, through still to be determined city neighborhoods, through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Edina, Minnetonka and end in Eden Prairie. Officials predict the line could be operating by 2015.

Dorfman says the projected cost of the line ranges from $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion, depending on the final route. Those numbers put the proposal give the project a Cost Effectiveness Index of $30 per rider for the length of the line, just outside the range required by the Federal Transit Administration for federal funding.

"In order to move into the next step which would be to begin preliminary engineering you have to reach that reach that $29 CEI number, so we're very close to that," she said.

Dorfman says the new numbers show the less costly option is to build the line along the Kenilworth trail near Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles in Minneapolis.

That would disappoint people who want the line built along the Midtown Greenway through Uptown in south Minneapolis and from there to downtown.

Hennepin County will host a series of open houses to discuss the proposal:

Open House: Light Rail Routing & Station Area Plans August 11, 2009 (6:30 pm - 8:00 pm) Hopkins City Hall 1010 1st Street S. Hopkins, MN 55343 map

Open House: Light Rail Routing August 13, 2009 (11:30 am - 1:00 pm) (Community Meetings) Minneapolis Central Library 300 Nicollet Mall Minneapolis, MN 55401 map

Open House: Light Rail Routing & Station Area Plans August 13, 2009 (6:30 pm - 8:00 pm) Marriott Southwest Hotel 5801 Opus Parkway Minnetonka, MN 55343 map

Open House: Light Rail Routing & Station Area Plans August 18, 2009 (6:30 pm - 8:00 pm) St. Louis Park City Hall 5005 Minnetonka Blvd. St. Louis Park, MN 55416 map

Open House: Light Rail Routing & Station Area Plans August 19, 2009 (6:30 pm - 8:00 pm) Eden Prairie City Hall 8080 Mitchell Road Eden Prairie, MN 55344 map

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