The platform of the Golden Triangle light rail station last Friday was flocked with snow. Work shoe impressions passed under signs that read: “to SouthWest Station” and “to Union Depot.” No passengers will board LRT cars here until, maybe, 2027.
Two sets of rails cross adjacent West 70th Street to the south. To the north, those rails ascend a viaduct over Shady Oak Road and Highway 212. They will remain unused until traction power stations, catenary towers, power lines, signals and safety gates have been installed and tested. Only then will the line’s Siemens-built light rail cars cruise between Metro Green Extensions’ partner cities: Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and Minneapolis.
The Metro Green Line Extension Project announced in November that civil (heavy) construction along its 14.5-mile route from SouthWest Station to Target Field is more than 62% complete. For starters, the project has 16 stations, 29 bridges, six pedestrian tunnels, 131 retaining walls and 182,000 feet (29 miles) of tracks. Installation of power structures and buildings (part of the system’s phase of construction) has already begun in Eden Prairie.
All of the tracks along Eden Prairie’s 3.5-mile, zig-zag alignment have been laid. Five LRT bridges span local roads and major highways. Four at-grade vehicle crossings are traffic cone free.
The 582-foot, cut-and-cover tunnel from City West Station under Highway 62 into Minnetonka is also complete. Tracks have been laid beyond Opus Station. Minnetonka’s single stop and Eden Prairie’s four stations look ready for electrification. Work on the line’s 11 other stations progresses at various stages.
Green Line Extension Project Director Jim Alexander says SouthWest Transit buses will begin boarding passengers in their new waiting area at SouthWest Station in 2023. A bus company insider told EPLN that the hope is for a March or April opening.
Change orders, budget overruns and delays. Oh my!
As of this week, construction of expensive secant walls for the Kenilworth cut-and-cover tunnel in Minneapolis is 86% complete. The walls will seal two LRT tubes from unstable soils and underground seepage and protect nearby structures.
A stretch of the 2,236-foot-long underpass is pinched between townhouses, a single Twin Cities & Western freight track to the west, and an aging, high-rise condominium residence to the east. When completed, the tunnel will support landscaped bike and hike trails.
The Met Council announced in January 2022 that the project’s completion will cost an additional $450 to $550 million and be nudged to a 2027 opening. In March, Gov. Tim Walz signed a bipartisan bill requiring an independent audit of the project.
The first of two parts of the audit was issued by the Office of the Legislative Auditor (O.L.A.) in September. The Special Review itemizes the causes of budget overruns and the revision of the 2023 completion date to 2027.
The report recognizes that pre-construction uncertainties in determining the final locations of freight rail lines in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, scope and project design changes, and a required additional environmental study and additional approvals from each partner city are major factors.
The re-inclusion of Eden Prairie’s Town Center Station to the project, an un-anticipated demand to extend a barrier wall between light rail and freight rail tracks in Minneapolis and undetected poor soil conditions in Kenilworth accounted for $225 million in civil change orders for general contractor Lunda-McCrossan Joint Venture. That’s over half the cost of the massive and complex project’s net change orders. By April 29, 2022, there were 622 of them.
Change orders are a given in any construction project, small or large. They take time to negotiate and must reflect changing labor, weather, and supply costs. The Green Line Extension’s change orders have also required a re-set of timelines for the installation and testing phases of project operating systems.
The O.L.A. Special Review provides a succinct description of a very complex set of change orders prompted by the $11.4 million Town Center Station, the $93 million barrier wall and the much more costly Kenilworth Tunnel. An estimated cost of the tunnel has not been determined.
Work on the line’s operational systems is moving forward in spite of the Kenilworth delay. The Nov. 25 Green Line Extension update notes that the installation of 36 signal houses, 19 traction power stations and 900 catenary poles has begun. Catenary poles support overhead wires that power the light rail cars.
Despite heated criticism of Minnesota’s largest-ever public works project, the Met Council and partner cities remain enthusiastic. The project’s oversight committees know that $1.8 billion-plus dollars in residential, commercial, public/institutional and industrial development along the LRT corridor has been permitted (approved for construction). Another $760.2 million is planned. Improved local streets, intersections, sidewalks and regional trails are part of the mix.
In Eden Prairie, the residential/retail complex Elevate at Southwest Station, the Opus campus on Shady Oak Road and the Blue Stem North Apartments near Golden Triangle Station are among what are branded transit-oriented developments.
City Economic Development Manager David Lindahl counts 21 projects around light rail’s Eden Prairie corridor. Eight of those projects are residential, and among those are affordable units. Some are proposals, some are in the review pipeline. Others are being constructed or occupied. Combined, Lindahl says, those investments hover around the $500 million mark.
On the high end are Flagstone Senior Living ($80 million), Paravell Apartments ($80 million), Elevate residential/retail ($63 million) and Scheels ($27 million). More modest projects include Hampton Inn’s renovation ($8.7 million), Hemple Real Estate’s office/warehouse ($6 million), Asia Mall ($5 million) and Culver’s ($2.1 million).
Check out an illustrated City of EP presentation on development projects around the light rail area here.
An EPLN article on the Bluestem North Apartments can be found here.
Similar dynamics are occurring in the other partner cities. In October, St. Louis Park reported to the Corridor Management Committee that since 2016, $586 million of investments in 23 projects have been prompted, in part, by the coming of light rail. Nine of these have been completed, four are under construction and 10 have been approved; 683 of the 2,083 residential units are affordable. Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle was impressed.
Nordic Ware was said to be adding 67,000 square feet to its cookware factory. The signature company is located near the Beltline Boulevard Station and is adjacent to a regional bike trail that parallels light rail and freight tracks. Nordic Ware plans to open what it calls The Bunt Cafe, a pit stop for bicyclers and hikers.
Zelle smiled and told the committee, “A Bundt Cafe. You can’t get more Minnesota than that — on a bike trail!”
Zelle remains confident that funds to complete the project will be found. The Met Council, he said, is shaping a funding strategy. It has ongoing conversations with Hennepin County, the State and Minnesota’s Congressional Delegation.
As the meeting was about to adjourn, Edina Mayor Jim Hovland and Minnetonka Mayor Brad Wiersum reminded Zelle that Met Council strategists need to engage the Corridor Management Committee — the five partner cities — in framing and promoting the funding strategies.
“If there’s a strategy being developed internally (by the Met Council),” said Hovland, “we should know about that. … That’s our job.” “Collectively,” added Wiersum, “we have a pretty loud voice.”
The rest of the story
Part two of the Office of the Legislative Auditor report is slated for release in a few months. It is intended to review Met Council decision-making processes of the kind described in an Oct. 28, 2021, O.L.A. Memo to State Sen. Scott Dibble and Rep. Frank Hornstein. The memo described, with context and background, disputes between the Met Council and project design contractor, AECOM Technical Services, Inc.
O.L.A. Evaluation Coordinator David Kirchner, responding to an EPLN email, wrote that the Met Council has been fully open and cooperative during the audit. The office is primarily concerned with the Met Council and its oversight of the project. Kirchner added that O.L.A. staff have spoken with Hennepin County and reviewed documents from the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and some of the partner cities.
Vacant landscapes and barren parking lots near Golden Triangle Station may remind cynics of “the great recession” circa 2008. Informed observers like David Lindahl would call that view misleading.
There is the Blue Stem North proposal with its 420-plus apartments. Plans provide that 25% of them will be affordable.
And there are whispers around town about the purchase of a 23-acre parcel that’s a hop, skip and a jump from future light rail service. It’s on West 70th Street and Flying Cloud Drive. Major companies have nested there: Northgate Computer, Supervalu, Best Buy and others.
Aldevron, an expanding Fargo-based biotechnology company, is the new owner. Hennepin County property records show the property and building were acquired for $27 million. That’s not chump change. It is reasonable to think that Aldevron, a stand-alone subsidiary of Danaher Corp., has plans.
Editor notes: David Lindahl, who is mentioned in this story, is also an EPLN Board member.
Writer Jeff Strate served on the SWLRT Community Advisory Committee as an at-large member from February 2015 through February 2017. Jeff has also operated a Jello mold-making machine at Nordic Ware. He is also an EPLN Board member.
Comments aren’t allowed on our site, but we do offer several ways to provide feedback, and have your voice heard. If you believe the story has an error, or would like to get in touch with the author, please contact us. If you would like to respond directly to this article, we welcome and encourage Letters To the Editor. You can find details on how to submit a letter on our contact page.