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Southwest Light-Rail Construction to Begin

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

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The prospect of a new light-rail line connecting Minneapolis to Eden Prairie recently overcame a significant hurdle on the road to construction: The Federal Transportation authority has issued a notice saying that it will likely pay for nearly half the cost of the $2 billion project.

The Southwest Light Rail Transit project—the largest public works project in Minnesota history—proposes 15 miles of rail with 16 stations running along Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. According to the Star Tribune, there are roughly 64,300 jobs within a half mile of the proposed stations, with an additional 127,000 in downtown Minneapolis.

Southwest Light Rail Transit History

Similar to many projects of this scale, Southwest has faced its own share of challenges: In 2014, a citizens’ group called the Lakes and Park Alliance sued the Metropolitan Council alleging that the endeavor breached federal environmental laws. A federal judge dismissed the challenge, but the dismissal has been appealed.

Last summer, the council brokered a $18.5 million agreement with Twin Cities & Western Railroad, which prompted the company to drop a federal lawsuit regarding how sharing a portion of the track with the larger project. BNSF Railway drew its own line in the sand last year when it demanded that a concrete wall separate light-rail and freight trains along a short length of the route.

The bidding process has also proven to be problematic: In September 2017, the council rejected four bids, ranging from $797 million to $1.08 billion, because the bidders were dubbed “non-responsive.” In May, two new bids from contractors rang in more expensive than the first round. The contract was supposed to be awarded in the beginning of August, but then that date was bumped back to the end of September, and then until mid-November.

Moving Ahead

The FTA’s “letter of no prejudice” notice is a green light for the council to start spending local money on the rail project; the council can expect federal money will be provide close to 50 percent reimbursement later, which is slated to total $929 million. To date, $293 million of state and local funding has been used to pay for engineering and design.

The council awarded the $799 million construction contract to Lunda/C.S. McCrossan, the last remaining firm left after the extended bidding process. Lunda/C.S. McCrossan will be responsible for building 29 bridges, including pedestrian, freight and roadway bridges; modifying seven existing bridges; building over 100 retaining walls; and constructing six pedestrian tunnels and other structures. Roughly 7,500 construction jobs will be created throughout the endeavor.

“The Southwest light rail project is a critical economic development project for the people of Minnesota,” said Gov. Mark Dayton. “When complete, it will improve many thousands of lives from Eden Prairie to north Minneapolis. It will create new jobs, reduce highway congestion and better connect Minnesotans to one another.”

A limited notice to proceed will be issued in December. Passenger service is slated to begin in 2023.


Tagged categories: Government; Infrastructure; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rail

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