Met Council backs cuts to put Southwest light rail back on track

Commuter at SouthWest Station
A commuter is seen at the SouthWest Station in Eden Prairie, Minn., April 29, 2015. The station will now be the last stop on the Southwest Corridor light rail line after cuts were approved July 8, 2015.
Peter Cox | MPR News

The Metropolitan Council on Wednesday backed $250 million in cuts to the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail line, a move intended to stem the line's spiraling costs and rescue the project.

The package of cuts includes shortening the line by eliminating the final station at Mitchell Road in Eden Prairie, delaying a station at the Eden Prairie Mall and downsizing park-and-ride lots.

Officials also agreed to slash the landscaping budget and eliminate station art along the corridor and reduce the number of train cars expected to run on the line.

"Today's vote demonstrates the momentum behind this project," Met Council Chair Adam Duininck said in a statement. "The corridor cities and Hennepin County really pulled together to deliver a plan to scale back the project, while preserving its ability to serve the region."

Planning for the Minneapolis-to-Eden Prairie rail line was thrown into limbo in late April after Met Council officials acknowledged costs for the project had jumped to nearly $2 billion, $341 million more than previously forecast.

Much of the additional cost was blamed on ground conditions along the route and soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins.

Southwest light rail route
The revised route for the Southwest Corridor light rail line. The final station at Mitchell Road in Eden Prairie has been cut.
Courtesy of Metropolitan Council

It became clear that saving the project meant agreeing to a downsized plan.

Last week, the Corridor Management Committee, an advisory group of local metro area officials, signed off on the $250 million cuts the Met Council formally approved Wednesday.

Hennepin County and several cities have also pledged to make additional local contributions.

Hennepin officials took the first formal step Tuesday to fill a remaining $91 million budget gap to help move the project forward. The Hennepin County Board said it would dedicate $5 million in environmental funds over the next four years to clean up contaminated sites along the proposed light rail route.

The formerly 15.8-mile line with 17 stations was set to open in 2019. With the changes approved Wednesday, the Met Council said the Southwest line is expected to open in 2020 with 14.4 miles and 15 stations at a revised cost estimate of about $1.744 billion.

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