SAINT PAUL, Minn. - The rising costs projected for the new Southwest Corridor light-rail line have county leaders in the Twin Cities Metro Area balking.
The $1.25 billion price tag could rise to $1.8 billion or higher. The line is to run for 14 miles between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.
The problem is the concern activists and neighbors in Minneapolis and Saint Louis Park have about the impact of the planned rail route on their areas. Residents and bicyclists who use the Kenilworth trail paths in Minneapolis do not want part of the path eliminated to make way for the LRT.
"They have spent a long time making this trail for bikes," said Dan Meyers, a Kenilworth area resident. "It has gone from being nothing to a bike and walking trail and to see that destroyed for an LRT that there are other options for, I would rather see other options pursued."
The most expensive option to accommodate both rail systems would be to put them side by side. It would require a mile-plus tunnel running under the existing freight rail line and the adjacent bike path. However, the cost of a "deep tunnel" would be more than $300 million.
"That deep tunnel," said Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, "I mean, that is a 25% increase all by itself...if you add something in, then you need to take something else out."
She admitted that making up $300 million dollars for a deep tunnel would be very difficult. Holding the budget line on the almost completed Central Corridor project required cutting a number of stations along the route. Those stations were later restored when the City of Saint Paul came up with more money for the project.
Reinhardt is a member of the County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), made up of representatives from 5 counties who will help foot the bill for the SWLRT. The counties are Ramsey, Hennepin, Washington, Dakota and Anoka.
"It is about fairness," said Reinhardt. "It is about making sure that you are treating all the corridors equally and, if we do that, that means that Southwest has to come in at $1.25 billion."
Reinhardt said overspending on the Southwest Corridor could endanger funding for other rail projects still on the planning boards, including those directly affecting the east side of the Metro area.
Reinhardt insisted that she does not believe reworking plans for the SWLRT would jeopardize the corridor being "in the cue" for hundreds of millions of dollars of federal transit funding. The federal funding is to pick up half of the total cost of the project.
Minneapolis neighbors like Dan Meyers are not concerned about the increased cost of the tunnel proposal.
"The whole project is going to cost a lot of money," said Meyers. "To spend some money, but not make it right does not seem to make a lot of sense."