Southwest Light Rail gets a new lifeline

Last ditch plan to fund Southwest Light Rail

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Southwest Light Rail Line will live to fight another day, after a local cash infusion by the Metropolitan Council and its partners on the project.

The panel voted to make a commitment of $103.5 million in funds, by authorizing "certificates of participation," IOUs that will be issued next July.

If state lawmakers create a new path to funding during the 2017 session, those certificates won't have to be issued. Planners needed to come up with a $145 million in new local funding in order to stay in the running for a in $928 million federal grant money. 

"There’s over 60 projects around the country right now moving through the federal process that we’re in competition with," Met Council Chair Adam Duininck told KARE. "And if we stumble or show any sign of slowing down -- or challenges at the local level -- we could lose those funds in a heartbeat."

The remainder will come from the Met Council's partners, Hennepin County and the County Transit Investment Board, or CTIB.

Earlier Wednesday the CTIB committed $20 million in additional funds for the SW LRT. The CTIB also agreed to finance up to 11.5 percent of the Met Council's Certificates of Participation if needed.

And on Tuesday the Hennepin County Board, acting as the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, committed to spending an additional $20.5 million on the light rail ine.

The $1.8 billion project was in jeopardy of running out of money at the end of September, in the absence of action by the Minnesota Legislature. The line will run from Downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, with stops in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park and Hopkins along the way.

The flurry of votes Tuesday and Wednesday followed a light summit last week convened by Gov. Mark Dayton

The intent was to sending a message to the Federal Transit Authority that the Twin Cities metro area is still serious about the project, and that it has enough local support to be completed.

$140 million has already been spend on studies, design and engineering work. $30 million of that come from taxpayers statewide, while the remainder has been from local and federal sources.

The rail project has been the subject of 179 public meetings and hearings 2009, throughout the design and local community consent process.

The SW LRT has also been targeted with lawsuits by residents concerned that the route, co-located with a freight line and the Kenwood Trail, will threaten the environment and quality of life in the Lake of the Isles area.

Duininck said the Federal Transit Authority remains committed to the project, and planning will continue even as the litigation makes its way through the court system.

(© 2016 KARE)


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