The Metro Green Line Extension project faces an estimated funding deficit of $240 million, which will be equally shared by Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Council. The project’s current estimated final cost is around $2.7 billion.
Note: The Metro Green Line Extension project is also commonly referred to as Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT).
The Met Council announced in a Monday afternoon news release that the funds will be dedicated to the remaining capital and startup costs of the 14.5-mile line that will connect Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, St. Louis Park and downtown Minneapolis.
Unanticipated constrution challenges and costs associated with the cut-and-cover Kenilworth tunnel and a safety wall between the light rail and a freight railroad in Minneapolis are the primary reasons for cost overruns. The Met Council also cites the re-inclusion of Town Center Station in Eden Prairie as a factor in the increased estimated budget.
On June 28, Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle told lawmakers on the Legislative Audit Commission, “This actual project is costing more because it was always going to cost more.”
On Aug. 15, during a presentation to the Eden Prairie City Council, SWLRT Project Director Jim Alexander said the project is about 75% complete. He noted that in Eden Prairie, the traction power and electrical systems could be finished by year’s end. Responding to Mayor Ron Case’s question about the funding gap, Alexander said, “We are confident that we (the project) will work it out. We (The Met Council) have continued conversations with our primary local funder Hennepin County along with the governor’s office and we’re also talking with the FTA. … It’s just that we’re not there yet.”
Just six days later, the Met Council announced that it, along with Hennepin County, had reached an agreement. The Met Council will cover the startup costs before passenger fare service begins on the line and will pay for 45% of the remaining capital construction costs.
According to the press release, the council’s share will primarily come from “federal capital formula program funds” during the next three years. Hennepin County’s transit sales tax will cover 55% of the capital costs.
The proposed funding agreement must also be approved by the Metropolitan Council Board and the Hennepin County Board. A new budget for the completion of the project remains a work in progress and must be approved by the Federal Transit Administration
The local response
In an email to EPLN, Mayor Case wrote, “I’m very pleased that after months of working on this most recent budget shortfall, Charlie Zelle and his team have finally been able to get the full LRT funding across the finish line!”
During a phone call, state Sen. Steve Cwodzinski (DFL-49) said that he feels relief. “I am glad that the two bodies could work it out.” he said.
Cwodzinski, who represents Eden Prairie and southern Minnetonka, cited several benefits of transit: its appeal to young people, the new housing units already built in anticipation of light rail, and the opportunity it presents for more people to shop, dine, and do business in the southwest suburbs.
The offices of Eden Prairie’s Hennepin County commissioners Chris LaTondresse and Debbie Goettel did not respond in time for this article.
In January 2024, The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) is expected to issue the last of a series of reports on Southwest Light Rail. The new report will focus on the Met Council’s financing of the project.
During last week’s City Council meeting, Jim Alexander said that passenger service is currently projected to begin sometime in 2027.
Writer Jeff Strate is a member of the EPLN Board and served on the Community Advisory Committee of the SWLRT project.
RECENT EPLN ARTICLES ON LIGHT RAIL
- Manager: Don’t expect partial LRT service ahead of schedule by Mark Weber, Aug. 16, 2023. Click here.
- Light rail from EP to Target Field — a $3 billion project? by Jeff Strate, July 8, 2023. Click here.
- The $2.74 billion LRT Project by Jeff Strate May 3, 2023. Click here.
We offer several ways for our readers to provide feedback. Your comments are welcome on our social media posts (Facebook, X, Instagram, Threads, and LinkedIn). We also encourage Letters to the Editor; submission guidelines can be found on our Contact Us page. If you believe this story has an error or you would like to get in touch with the author, please connect with us.