Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff acted responsibly in rejecting all four construction bids for the proposed Southwest Light Rail line. The full Met Council should formalize Tchourumoff’s judgment that the bids be denied due to “responsiveness and price” when it formally considers the matter at a Sept. 20 meeting.
In addition, the council and construction firms still interested in bidding on construction of the 14.5-mile line that would connect Eden Prairie to Minneapolis should press forward to find a way to finally add this beneficial expansion to regional transit options.
The initial bids — ranging from nearly $797 million to $1.08 billion — were deemed too high, at least compared to the Met Council’s budget (which is nonpublic data per state statute). That the bids were both too expensive and couldn’t meet key criteria is worrisome because cutting costs may require some significant changes from the original design, although Tchourumoff told an editorial writer that the council would try to avoid any changes requiring a new process of municipal consent or environmental review.
Still, this latest challenge to the oft-delayed project will change timelines. New project specifications are expected to be issued in October, with bids due in December and a selection made in March 2018. That will delay the line’s opening until 2022, representing a setback of about four months. The delay will also add inflationary costs to the project.
The entire project is budgeted at $1.858 billion, with the federal government slated to pay about $929 million. But that money is not guaranteed, and the application for the full funding grant agreement from the Federal Transit Administration is expected to be delayed, too. To date, more than $187 million has been spent to advance the project.
The public costs are significant, but they represent an essential investment in a region where traffic is already nearing capacity and the existing Blue and Green light-rail lines quickly surpassed ridership expectations.
Transit options are increasingly important to attract the next generation of workers and they are key to employers, including several significant firms in the job-rich southwestern suburbs. Transportation is so important to Amazon, which is considering cities for a second headquarters that could employ a regionally transformative 50,000 workers, that the firm prioritized access to mass transit in its request for proposal.
Indeed, the two dynamics are symbiotic: Amazon — or any company hoping to grow its business — requires a highly talented workforce, and that workforce needs and wants transit options.
“This is certainly a disappointing outcome, and it’s a setback in terms of timeline, but I think that we could still move this project forward without compromising the tremendous benefits of the project brings to our community and to our region from an economic standpoint but also from a mobility standpoint,” Tchourumoff said.
For the region’s sake, let’s hope she’s right.