Minnesota Senate panel wants audit of Southwest light rail project

A light rail train is seen off the tracks in downtown Minneapolis.
A light rail train is seen off the tracks in downtown Minneapolis in November 2017. A Minnesota Senate committee advanced legislation Thursday to require the legislative auditor to take a close look at the troubled Southwest light rail project.
Brandt Williams | MPR News 2017

The Minnesota Senate transportation committee on Thursday unanimously approved a bill requiring the Office of the Legislative Auditor to dig into the Southwest Corridor light rail project with a special review. 

The 14.5-mile line is behind schedule and over budget. The estimated cost is now near $2.75 billion.

Legislative Auditor Judy Randall said she shares lawmakers’ concerns.

“We are already beginning to take action on some of the items included in this bill,” Randall said. “We are planning to send a request to the Metropolitan Council to start to dig into this. So, we already have the authority to conduct a special review, and we plan to do so.”

The line is planned to run between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka, with 16 stations.

In recent days, concerns have arisen over cracks that have appeared in a nearby condominium building that residents believe may have been caused by construction on the line.

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Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is the author of the bill, although he was not at the committee meeting to present it. That job went to Senate Transportation Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson.

“See if we can get in effect a jump-start on this audit rather than waiting until the end of session,” Newman said. “We don’t want to wait that long.”

Dibble introduced separate legislation Thursday that would transfer responsibility for the project from the Metropolitan Council to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, a longtime critic of light rail, said that the high costs will continue when the line is actually operational.

“You have to pay for this somehow. The money doesn’t grow on trees,” Osmek said.