It was in late March of this year that a letter was sent to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, signed by 84 Minnesota republican legislators, requesting that $900 million in funding for the Southwest light rail project be denied.
Now, after the federal budget compromise was made over the weekend in Washington, it seems there may be life for the Southwest LRT after all. The compromise states that the SWLRT will receive $10 million in funding from the Federal Transit Administration.
The budget compromise, still pending final approval, does include the Southwest light rail as one of four projects that are projecting to receive a full funding agreement worth over $900 million in federal support between Minnesota and federal authorities. The budget deal is expected to be voted on later this week.
The SWLRT Controversy
The $1.9 billion dollar project has been subject to controversy over the past few years amongst lawmakers and residents alike for both funding reasons and the route chosen for the line.
The 14.5 mile extension of the green line is slated to start at Target Field Station and reach all the way down to Eden Prairie. In order to do this though, the train would have to pass through Kenilworth Corridor, over the channel as well as underneath via tunnel. Residents in the area were very unhappy with the thought of such a project passing through their neighborhood, and an environmental review was sought.
Costs continued to skyrocket for the project. It has also been a source of contention between Republican lawmakers and the Metropolitan Council; specifically concerning state funding shares which authorities deemed too expensive. The Met Council has now come up with a way to fund that steers away from contribution by the state of Minnesota. However, that did not stop Republicans in March from attempting to halt the project still.
Uncertainty turns to Optimism
President Trump’s earlier budget proposal wanted to cut funding for the New Starts program, which funds transit projects like the Southwest light rail. This did allow for some uncertainty for a period of time, but after this weekend’s compromise, the Metropolitan Council states that the news is encouraging.
If the funding goes through and all is improved, the Met Council says that construction could begin on the SWLRT later this fall and passengers can begin riding in early 2021.
While there are no 100% certainties yet, things continue to look positive for the SWLRT project.
Only time will tell…