Representatives of the communities who will be served by Southwest Light Rail Transit are narrowing the list of cost-cutting options to bring the project back in line with its budget.
The two options receiving the most attention would make Town Center in Eden Prairie the westernmost station, eliminating stops at Mitchell Road and Southwest Station. Choosing either one of the two alternative Town Center stops as the terminus would achieve budget savings of between $365 million and $442 million, according to project staff. At the same time, ending the line at Town Center would keep ridership high enough to secure 50 percent federal funding.
The Corridor Management Committee, which is made up of project partners and representatives of the counties and cities along the Southwest LRT METRO Green Line extension, is doing the cost-cutting work. Since the committee is made up of the parties most impacted by the line, its job is to identify enough cuts to bring the project in line with its $1.653 billion budget. As the line is currently proposed, it would run $341 million over that budget at $1.994 billion due to delays and the need to remediate poor soils along the line.
“If we are going to cut 20 percent out of the project, those cuts have to come from the communities themselves,” Council Chair Adam Duininck said.
Project staff lays out four cost-cutting scenarios
At a meeting on June 3, project staff presented the committee with four possible scenarios for bringing the project in line with its budget:
The final option marks the longest point the line could be extended while still meeting the budget target of $1.653 billion.
End the line at Golden Triangle
End the line at one of the two proposed alternative Town Center stations
End the line at Southwest Station.
However, making Southwest the westernmost station would require so many other cuts that ridership would suffer and the project would lose its edge in the competition for the matching federal dollars necessary to build the project. Many committee members said that ending at Golden Triangle was too “draconian” a cut for Eden Prairie to bear.
“We are off to a good start,” Duininck said. “The June 3 meeting demonstrated that all parties are willing to compromise. You can’t go wrong when you have smart people acting in good faith to build something that will benefit the region.”
Even if the committee sets one of the Town Center locations as the westernmost stop, many other decisions will need to be made about potential cuts along the line. Committee members said they are committed to sharing the sacrifices it will take to bring the project within its budget.
Smaller cost-saving measures also on the table
For the remainder needed to reach cost reductions totaling $341 million or more, project staff sought direction from the Corridor Management Committee and project partners on other items that could be deleted. Among those items that the committee will consider at its June 24 meeting are:
Reducing the fleet of train cars
Reducing vehicle storage capacity at the operations and maintenance facility in Hopkins
Eliminating park-and-rides at Beltline, Louisiana, Blake, Downtown Hopkins, Shady Oak, Opus, City West and Golden Triangle stations
Eliminating joint development at Blake Station
Deferring or deleting 21st, Penn, or Royalston stations and associated pedestrian improvements
Project staff also presented findings from an independent construction cost estimate review. The review found the current $1.994 billion estimate is appropriate for the level of design, reflects adequate level of detail, identifies all elements, falls within a reasonable range, and is in line with similar LRT projects nationally.
A review of transit options presented by project staff identified the strengths and weaknesses of each option:
LRT has the shortest travel time and highest projected ridership but the highest capital and annual operating costs.
Enhanced bus service has the longest travel time, lowest projected ridership and lowest increase in access for transit-dependent riders but the lowest capital and annual operating costs.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has capital costs slightly less than LRT and annual operating costs comparable to enhanced bus service but projected ridership is half of LRT and congestion relief is less than half of LRT.
Next steps to reduce the Southwest LRT budget
Based on the Corridor Management Committee’s feedback, Southwest Project Office and project partner staff—who provided input on the potential cost-cutting scenarios—will complete a more detailed evaluation. This will include analyzing travel time, ridership, and cost-effectiveness.
The committee will meet again on June 24 to compare transit options and to hear about a third-party review of the project office’s technical capacity to deliver the project. On July 1, the committee is scheduled to recommend a mode and, if LRT is chosen, an adjusted project scope and budget to the Council.
The Council is scheduled to consider the Corridor Management Committee’s recommendation on July 8. If the Council decides to move ahead, the project will aim for publication of a Final Environmental Impact Statement during spring 2016 and a signed Full Funding Grant Agreement by late 2016. The Full Funding Grant Agreement is the federal government’s contractual commitment to pay half of the project’s construction costs.
In late April the project office released an analysis that showed soil test results and project delays had increased the cost of the light rail project to $1.994 billion—a $341 million increase. See April 27 news release.
The analysis also determined that construction would not begin until 2017 instead of 2016, and the ultimate opening date of the Green Line extension would be delayed from late 2019 to 2020. These delays create roughly $50 million of the cost increase due to anticipated inflation.
Mark Fuhrmann, who leads large rail transit project development at the Council, told the Corridor Management Committee and the Council on May 6 that a primary goal is to maintain the project’s “medium-high” rating with the Federal Transit Administration. The Green Line extension is competing for federal funding with six other projects around the country that have achieved that rating. If the FTA approves the project for construction, the federal government will cover 50 percent of the cost.
More on Southwest LRT project.