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More than a decade in the making, officials break ground on Southwest light rail

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Local officials ceremoniously shovel dirt in the air.
Local officials ceremoniously shovel dirt in the air at the Southwest light rail project groundbreaking in Hopkins Nov. 30, 2018.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Updated: Nov. 30, 6:17 p.m. | Posted: Nov. 29, 11:24 a.m.

It took more than a decade, but on Friday, key stakeholders and public officials broke ground on the Southwest Corridor light rail line.

It's a day some thought they'd never see: ballooning costs, lawsuits, delayed contracts and opposition from politicians and neighbors alike repeatedly threatened to derail the 14.5-mile transit project. 

But in November, the Federal Transit Administration issued a "letter of no prejudice" for the project, a small but significant step needed to secure the nearly $2 billion to build the line, the largest public works project in state history.

The federal government is now on the hook to cover nearly half that cost, and the letter allows the Metropolitan Council to start spending local money to get the project off the ground.

Former state senator Phyllis McQuaid
Former St. Louis Park mayor and former state Sen. Phyllis McQuaid holds a file from 1980 that represents her initial work which was part of the long journey toward the Southwest light rail.
Courtney Perry for MPR News

Politicians including U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, U.S. Sen. Tina Smith and Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin were on hand at the future Southwest light rail support facility in Hopkins for the ceremonial groundbreaking.

Construction firm Lunda/C.S. McCrossan will likely begin work this winter, with the first riders projected to hop on the train in 2023. The line will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie through the cities of St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka.

Eventually, it will be better known as a 16-stop extension of the Green Line, part of a series of existing and planned train and bus rapid transit routes that leaders hope can meet the needs of a growing and increasingly car-adverse demographic in the Twin Cities metro area.

The Metropolitan Council expects the population along the line outside of downtown Minneapolis to grow 56 percent in 2035 from 2014 levels. Job growth in downtown Minneapolis is expected to grow by 18 percent in the same time period. Once it opens, the Metropolitan Council expects weekday ridership to hit 34,000 people.

Below is a timeline of the Southwest light rail, including setbacks over the years as well as key milestones in the project.

Click each green stop icon to read our previous coverage on Southwest light rail.