Hennepin County votes to spend up to $435 million on Southwest light rail

November 15, 2018

Barely a day after the federal government cleared the way to begin construction of the Southwest light-rail line, Hennepin County on Thursday approved spending up to $435 million to start building the project.

Two decades in the works, the Southwest light-rail line will connect downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, traveling through St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka along the way. Passenger service is expected to begin in 2023.

Construction of the nearly 15-mile line is expected to begin this winter.

The Hennepin County Board and its rail authority entered into a grant agreement with the Metropolitan Council for up to $435 million to begin construction and pay for light-rail trains. The money comes from a local sales tax for transit and, to a lesser extent, property taxes.

On Wednesday, the Met Council received a letter of no prejudice from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which makes early construction work on the project eligible for federal reimbursement. The FTA is expected to pay $929 million to build the project.

Early construction activities include staffing and equipment mobilization, site clearance, demolition and utility work. Heavy construction will begin in earnest in 2019 and last through 2022, with testing of the system and light-rail trains from 2022 to 2023.

Holding up the letter from the FTA, Hennepin County Board Chairwoman Jan Callison said, this very simple letter belies how momentous this is.

Outgoing board member and longtime transit advocate Peter McLaughlin said Southwest, an extension of the existing Green Line, is part of a transit network akin to the federal interstate highway system built in the mid-20th century. He acknowledged there were skeptics about public transit in the region over the years.

A lot of people called the [Blue Line light rail] a train to nowhere, he said. Well a lot of people are going to nowhere every day.

The lone dissenter on the board was longtime light-rail opponent Jeff Johnson.

The cost is enormous to build and subsidize forever, he said. It will do nothing to relieve traffic congestion.

Later Thursday, the Metropolitan Council is expected to award the $799 million construction bid to Lunda/C.S. McCrossan.

Janet Moore 612-673-7752 @MooreStrib

Update hourly