In coming weeks, Hennepin County will consider retooling a measure approved last year that calls for the county to pay up to $200 million more should the proposed Southwest light-rail project run out of money.
The extra financial cushion from county coffers is being required by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which is on the hook to pay for $929 million of Southwest’s total $2 billion price tag. The Metropolitan Council, which is building and will operate Southwest, is expected to apply for an FTA grant later this year.
“This was a request of the FTA, and we’re responding to that request,” said Met Council spokeswoman Kate Brickman. “But we don’t expect it will be needed.”
The Southwest LRT, an extension of the Green Line, will link downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie, with service in St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnetonka as well. Slated to begin service in 2023, the Southwest line is the largest public works project in Minnesota history.
The Hennepin County Board in coming weeks will consider a measure committing up to $200.3 million, or 10% of the project’s budget, to “cover potential cost increases or funding shortfalls.”
The County Board and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority are expected to vote on the resolution June 4.
The project’s budget already includes $239 million in contingency funds.
But the FTA has indicated that it needs assurances of additional local funding before it invites the Met Council to apply for the federal grant. All transit projects in the FTA’s New Starts program, which includes the Southwest line, the Bottineau Blue Line light rail and the Gold Line bus-rapid transit in the Twin Cities, are required to provide the 10% cushion.
While the $200.3 million buffer was approved last year, the FTA now takes exception with the earlier resolution that says the additional money will only be used if all other funding is “exhausted.”
Earlier this month, construction began along the Southwest line’s 14.5-mile route, including the removal of trees in the Kenilworth corridor, a popular bike and pedestrian path in Minneapolis. That prompted local residents to circulate a petition that called for a halt to the tree removal until federal funding for the Southwest line is assured.
The petition, which garnered more than 2,900 signatures, was presented to Gov. Tim Walz’s staff last week.