Southwest light rail hits another budget snag

Commuter at SouthWest Station
Commuter at SouthWest Station
Peter Cox | MPR News file

The Southwest Corridor light rail project has another budget problem.

The project faces an $18 million funding gap, because the Federal Transit Administration is offering to contribute slightly less than local leaders had assumed.

A month ago, those leaders thought they'd solved the project's budget woes. They slashed its price tag by a quarter-billion dollars, to about $1.8 billion.

Hennepin County and several cities along the line pledged to contribute tens of millions of dollars' worth of land and cash.

Elected leaders thought the federal government would match the value of that land, dollar for dollar. But the Federal Transit Administration isn't being quite that generous. It will match only half the land value.

The Metropolitan Council is now looking for additional public land to include in the project to boost matching funds. The agency is also looking for more budget trims.

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"We believe that that $18 million remaining gap is certainly achievable, and we're working every day to fill up that gap," said Mark Fuhrmann, who leads the Southwest light rail project for the Met Council.

Fuhrmann said the gap would need to be filled by the middle of next year in order to secure federal matching funds for the project.

Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin says the funding shortfall is manageable.

"I don't see this as a serious problem at this point, McLaughlin said. "I think it's still in discussion. There are going to be ups and downs and little kerfuffles here, all along. I think that's what this is."

Correction: An earlier version of this story inaccurately characterized the federal contributions to the Southwest light rail project. The current version is correct.