Today the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) cleared the path for construction to begin on the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project (SWLRT). The $2.003 billion project will be the largest infrastructure project in the state’s history and is expected to create 7,500 construction jobs, with an estimated $350 million payroll.
“This news is long-awaited and hard-earned,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “The Southwest Light Rail Transit project is a critical economic development project for the people of Minnesota. When complete, it will improve many thousands of lives from Eden Prairie to North Minneapolis. It will create new jobs, reduce highway congestion, and better connect Minnesotans to one another."
The FTA granted the Council what is known as a Letter of No Prejudice (LONP), a critical milestone for the project. It makes the early construction work on the project eligible for federal reimbursement upon award of the Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA), anticipated in 2019. With the FFGA, the federal government would pay $929 million — nearly half — of the project’s total cost. The LONP means the Metropolitan Council can move forward with awarding a construction contract and begin mobilizing for construction.
“The FTA takes this step very seriously and I am thrilled to receive the approval that allows us to award the state’s largest civil construction project,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff. “SWLRT is a strong, important project, which has been designed and planned by a team of some of the most talented professionals in the country. Its planning alone has attracted millions of private economic development along the corridor, generating a return on investment before the first shovels even hit the ground. And now, thanks to our federal partners, the hard work and commitment from the county and so many in our region, we have the critical approval in hand and that final step of construction is on the horizon.”
Earlier this year, the Council received two construction contract bids; twice, the Council needed to ask the bidders to extend their bid validity while awaiting FTA approval to proceed. The bids were from apparent low bidder Lunda/C.S. McCrossan ($799,514,338) and Ames/Kraemer ($812,125,583), the latter of which did not respond to the final extension request. Receiving the LONP sets off a series of local actions needed for the Council to award the contract, including approvals from Hennepin County, the project’s primary local funder.
“This is a landmark moment and investment for our county, state and region, and I am proud that we got here together,” said Hennepin County Board of Commissioners Chair Jan Callison.
“We have cleared many hurdles along the way, and inevitably, there will be a few more to come, but I remain confident we can keep this project moving to opening day,” said Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority Board Chair Peter McLaughlin. “This decision marks another crucial step in our construction of a 21st century transit system.”
Hennepin County and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority will take up board actions at special meetings on November 15 to consider approving the work to be performed under the LONP and to enter into a grant agreement for $435 million, to provide funding for early construction activities.
The Council will vote on awarding the contract to the apparent low bidder and related business items at a special November 15 meeting.
Early construction activities this winter could include staffing and equipment mobilization, site clearance, demolition and utility work. Heavy construction would occur in 2019-2022, with testing of the system with new light rail vehicles anticipated in 2022-2023. SWLRT is expected to begin passenger service in 2023 as an extension of the METRO Green Line.
The existing Green Line received nine LONPs to allow it to move forward with construction before receiving the FFGA in 2011. LONP authority allows an applicant to incur costs on a project utilizing non-federal resources, with the understanding costs incurred subsequently to the issuance of an LONP may be reimbursable as eligible expenses should FTA approve the project at a later date.
SWLRT is a 14.5-mile line with 16 stations serving Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, nearby Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie. In 2014, there were approximately 64,300 jobs within a half mile of the proposed stations and 126,800 jobs in downtown Minneapolis. By 2035, employment is expected to grow to 80,900 within a half mile of the proposed stations and 145,300 in downtown Minneapolis — an 18 percent increase in employment. The population along the line outside of downtown Minneapolis is expected to grow by 56 percent from 2014 to 2035.