Editor’s note: The article originally published on Feb. 18 has been republished on Feb. 21 with updated information and corrections.
Demolition crews and bulldozers began preparing the right-of-way for the Southwest Light Rail line from Eden Prairie to downtown Minneapolis in 2019. Through December, 3,957 construction workers have received paychecks for what is now branded the Metro Green Line Extension. Most of them — 3,208 — are Minnesotans. Of the project’s non-administrative/non-managerial workforce, 23.8% have been people of color and indigenous; 8.4% have been women.
The Met Council’s “disaggregated,” ethnic breakdown of the workforce shows 2.8% are Asian, 6% Black, 19% Hispanic, 2.4% Native American, 1.5% of mixed ethnicity, and 75.5% White.
These and other stats were processed by retiring Met Council Vice Chair Molly Cummings and other officials during the Feb. 1 meeting of the project’s Corridor Management Committee (CMC). They seemed pleased. The oversight panel briefing was streamed from St. Louis Park City Hall.
Although passenger service has been pushed back to 2027, Green Line Extension Project Director Jim Alexander told the panel that 75% of the civil (heavy) work along the 14.5-mile route is complete. This includes, at various stages, 16 stations, 29 bridges, two train and six pedestrian tunnels and 131 retaining walls. The line’s 27 new, Siemens-built light rail cars have been operating on the Blue Line from Mall of America to Target Field.
Light rail construction in Eden Prairie was at its busiest during the height of the pandemic in 2020. Our town’s new normal then was marked by 28 construction cranes, ever-shifting traffic barrels and platoons of hardhats from the Town Center area to Highway 62. Contributing to the buzz were private, transit-oriented residential projects like the Elevate complex at SouthWest Station and Flagstone on Columbine Road.
The Corridor Management Committee also learned that, through November, minority/female contractors have billed the project nearly $200.1 million; that’s 20.4% of all contractor billings. This exceeds the project’s 15% goal for engaging companies that are categorized as Disadvantaged Business Enterprises — DBE is the shorthand abbreviation.
Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (a label officiously conjured up, it seems, by Washington attorneys) are companies owned by a minority or female individual with at least 51% interest in the company, and who also manage the business’s daily operations.
Approximately 85% of the contracts with minority/women companies working on the Metro Green Line Extension are based in Minnesota. One of the main ones is Eden Prairie’s Gunnar Electric on Martin Drive. The family business was formed here in 1969. President Laura Karow has been the majority holder of the residential and commercial contractor since 2014. Gunnar Electric is a DBE company working on the LRT.
Job numbers rise and fall. Massive and complex construction projects must adjust to change orders as well as supply chain, weather, seasonal and sequencing dynamics. Since Thanksgiving, the only light rail projects in Eden Prairie, it seems, have been a few signal houses and the bus passenger waiting area at SouthWest Station.
Civil and systems workers will return with springtime temperatures, but as the Green Line Extension moves towards completion, it will need fewer workers. The Met Council, the project’s advisory committees, general contractors, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR), local construction trade unions, the Minnesota Department of Labor & Industry, and technical colleges will remain partners in recruiting minorities and women.
Check out the list of workforce programs and services at the end of this article if you are interested in entering the construction trades and connecting with light rail contractors.
It’s complicated, but working
In Minnesota, the MDHR sets diversity goals. The agency’s Taylor Putz explained to EPLN that the goals differ across the state, but “provide contractors the opportunity to intentionally recruit, hire, and retain a racially and gender diverse workforce.”
All contractors working on the light rail project are required to submit monthly workforce reports to the MDHR. After review, the department submits them to the Met Council.
Although non-compliant contractors can face fines and restrictions, the MDHR prefers helping them make good-faith efforts with diversity-savvy agencies, unions, tech colleges and apprentice programs to reach workforce goals.
Tracking the progress of workforce participation
The general contractors also report the monthly dollar amounts for their contracts directly to the Met Council. The Met Council writes the checks for the $2.7 billion and still counting project.
As of November 2022, DBE achievement for the civil contractor Lunda/McCrossan Joint Venture (LMJV) was 21.1%, surpassing its goal of 16%. Meanwhile, the DBE achievement for the systems contractor Aldridge/Parsons Joint Venture (APJV) was 17.1%, exceeding its goal of 12%.
The data sets from the MDHR and the contractors are reviewed by the Met Council’s Office of Equity and Equal Opportunity (OEEO) and the project’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise & Workforce Advisory Committee (DWAC Committee).
Jon Tao, the OEEO’s senior small business specialist, presents the billing and DBE data to the Corridor Management Committee. His Feb. 1 report noted two categories that have been more difficult to achieve: Women comprise only 8.4% of the project’s workforce – the goal is 20%. And people of color and Indigenous workers account for 23.6% of the project’s workforce – the goal is 32%.
In January, DMJV’s Christa Seaberg told the DWAC Committee that one-third of the joint venture’s civil subcontractors had completed their contracts. The workforce hours count was dropping; job retention had become a top concern for LMJV and its subcontractors.
Seaberg told Eden Prairie Local News that LMJV has been holding required monthly meetings with its subcontractors from the start of the project. They review the workforce numbers and assist their “teams” in connecting with local minority/female construction workforce readiness programs. They also plan LRT recruitment /education and retention events. Post-pandemic, the informal huddles have returned to LMJV’s offices in Hopkins, a two-minute walk to the new Shady Oak Station that some of them likely helped build.
Timeline adjustments for both civil and systems work on the new line are inevitable, and completion of the Kenilworth Tunnel in Minneapolis may face another delay. Jim Alexander alerted the committee that although the installation of the tunnel’s advanced secant wall sections is about 94% complete, work crews have encountered an underground “impediment.” Sub-zero temps and heavy snow have slowed the investigation of the impediment (possibly a chunk of buried concrete).
Molly Cummings chose not to seek re-appointment this year to the Met Council but continues to speak of the “transformational” impact that the Green Line Extension has already had. The former Hopkins Mayor had hoped to be one of the line’s riders in the coming months, but its inaugural fare run is now four years distant.
During her final CMC meeting, Cummings pointed to three rows of chairs reserved mostly for citizens and proclaimed, “I’ll be sitting over there next time around.”
Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle and St. Louis Park Mayor Jake Spano thanked Cummings for her advocacy of the Metro Green Line and public transit, describing her as informed, tireless, and effective.
“If it wasn’t me calling you up,” said current Hopkins Mayor Patrick Hanlon to Cummings, “many times it was you calling me up saying, ‘Hey, pay attention to this specific issue that’s coming up.’”
Editor Note: Writer Jeff Strate served on the SWLRT Community Advisory Committee as an at-large member from February 2015 through February 2017. He is also a founding member of the EPLN Board.
Jobs, training, apprenticeships, and networking
So you’re thinking about a construction trade job that might lead to work on light rail and other projects? Browse the following events, services and websites. This list does not indicate endorsement by the Eden Prairie Local News.
Construct Tomorrow: website.
Programs and events for high school students on career opportunities in the trades and construction industry. Various locations and dates.
Feb. 23 – Hinkley; March 2 – Shakopee; April 20 – Forest Lake; April 26-27 – Duluth
Rosies of the Rail- Round Table Discussions & Networking: website. Thursday, March 9, Lunda/McCrossan Joint Venture offices, Hopkins. Networking for Green Line Extension women workers. This meet-up is part of National Women in Construction Week.
Building Strong Communities: website.
Multi-trade apprentice-prep programs for construction careers. Virtual and live events. Open for people holding high school or GDS diplomas. The program was formed by the Met Council, local trade unions and Twin Cities R!SE.
Rockin’ the Rails: For high school students.
Thursday, May 4, at Dunwoody College of Technology, Minneapolis. Light rail transit-oriented construction career exhibits for students and young adults. Contractors, labor unions and reps from construction trades and tech colleges will be on hand. Equipment demos and food trucks. Rockin’ the Rails is a Building Strong Communities event. Eden Prairie High School students: Visit or contact your EPHS Career Resource Center via its website or phone 952-975-8333.
AFL-CIO Building Trades Apprenticeships: website.
Construction Careers Foundation: website.
Apprenticeship Minnesota: website.
Webinars and resources for individuals & companies
MN Department of Labor & Industry
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