Delays increase costs for Twin Cities light rail project

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MINNEAPOLIS – An analysis released by the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council, which operates the transit system in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, concludes that test results and project delays have increased the cost of the Southwest Light Rail Project to $1.994 billion – a $341 million increase. The additional costs are primarily related to poor ground conditions along the Southwest corridor and soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins. The Council analysis also determined that the Southwest Light Rail Project would not open until 2020, instead of late 2019. The proposed 16-mile line would link downtown Minneapolis and suburban Eden Prairie.

The new numbers provoked serious doubts from Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton about what he called the line’s “viability and affordability.”

Dayton said he was “shocked and appalled” when he was informed of the project’s much larger cost, and he questioned whether it could actually be built. He suggested that other public transportation options for that swath of the metro area should be considered.

“The continuing escalation of the costs to design and build this line raise[s] serious questions about its viability and affordability,” the governor said. “The full board of the Metropolitan Council should quickly review other options for providing much-needed public transit to this region of the metro area.”

Dayton also said he will hold off recommending “any additional public money be committed to the project until I am satisfied that its cost can be justified and properly managed.”

“The additional costs for the Southwest LRT Project pose significant challenges for our funding partners and taxpayers,” said Adam Duininck, Chairman of the Metropolitan Council. “I will be talking with our funding partners, local communities, and legislative leaders to determine the future of this project – all options are on the table.”

The Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement was originally to be published in January 2014, and is now expected to be published in late May by the Federal Transit Administration in cooperation with the Council project office. As a result, the project’s completion has moved from 2019 to 2020.

The delay was a result of additional engineering and environmental studies, from December 2014 through the beginning of this spring, as part of the council’s due diligence on the project. Engineers and environmental consultants conducted additional tests to determine the nature of the soils’ ability to support structures and to determine the limits of wetlands and floodplains to be impacted by construction. The council used this additional data to update the original $1.653 billion cost estimate to $1.994 billion.

When the council began designing the line in early 2013 following completion of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, only 1 percent level of detail was available, which is standard at that point in the process. Once local and some state funds were committed to pay for engineering and environmental work, engineers conducted additional tests, which advanced the level of detail to 30 percent. This phase is when the greatest level of change occurs in a project due to underground testing results, which eliminates many engineering unknowns.

Some of the additional costs identified through testing and engineering were:
  • An 80 percent increase in retaining walls identified, as well as bridges and connecting roads
  • Design refinement due to additional poor ground conditions corridor-wide and soil contamination in St. Louis Park and Hopkins
  • Design refinement due to additional impacted wetlands, flood plains, and drainage areas, mostly in Eden Prairie
  • 11 additional acres of property acquisitions identified (from 126 to 137 acres) due to refined design and established construction limits, and 99 additional business relocations (from 47 to 146 relocations) due to refined design and determined building occupancy
  • Design refinement to address light rail and freight rail operational and safety requirements including five gated light rail crossings and improvements at five shared light rail/freight crossings.
As we weigh our options, I have directed our engineers and contractors to pursue every possible efficiency to achieve cost savings,” said Duininck

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