FTA gives go-ahead to start engineering on Southwest Corridor light-rail transit project

Date: Friday, September 2, 2011

FTA approval represents a significant step toward winning federal matching funds and building the 15-mile LRT line between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.  Projected ridership on the corridor is nearly 30,000 riders each weekday by 2030, comparable to current ridership on Hiawatha LRT.

“What this means in the eyes of the FTA is that we have a sound and viable project that will create jobs and benefit employers as well as those who live and work near the transitway,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh. “We have the confidence of the federal government, in addition to all the local partners, that we have a project that meets the standards for moving forward amid all the projects standing in line for federal transportation dollars.  The FTA’s blessing is a very good sign.”

During preliminary engineering, the Council and project partners will finalize plans for station placement and design, refine the estimates of project costs, benefits and impacts, finalize management plans, and identify and fully commit local funding sources. The PE process will take about two years and complete about 30 percent of the design work.

If the project ultimately receives FTA approval to enter final design and obtains federal funding, construction of the line will begin in 2014 and operations in late 2017/2018.  The corridor will pass through the cities of Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins and St. Louis Park and link with the Central Corridor line in Minneapolis, becoming the 26-mile Green LRT Line.

The proposed LRT line is part of the Council's 2030 long-range plan for a network of rail and bus “transitways” to serve heavily traveled corridors in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. These transit investments are intended to improve mobility, build transit ridership, slow the growth in traffic congestion and provide opportunities for housing, job and economic development along transportation corridors.

The region’s first LRT line opened in the Hiawatha corridor in 2004.  Last year, customers rode the Hiawatha line a record 10.5 million times.

“This is an important milestone,” agreed Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman. “The addition of the Southwest Light-Rail Line will connect residents from throughout our metropolitan region to major job centers and key destinations throughout downtown Minneapolis, the central cities and western suburbs. Southwest Corridor will generate strong ridership, serve as a catalyst for housing and economic development, and build on the successes of Hiawatha and Central LRT.”

“The Counties Transit Improvement Board is investing in more than mobility and congestion relief; it's investing in jobs,” said Counties Transit Improvement Board Chair Peter McLaughlin. “Southwest LRT will service more than 240,000 jobs and connect the region’s top job center, downtown Minneapolis, with the region’s sixth largest job center, Opus/Golden Triangle. Transit is just good for our regional economy, plain and simple.”

“This is a tremendous announcement as the competition for federal resources is fierce. Having Southwest LRT make the cut is incredibly important to our future economic development,” said Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Klingel.

As currently proposed, the $1.25 billion line would have 17 new stations and provide a link to three other rail corridors at the Target Field Station in Minneapolis, including Hiawatha, Central Corridor and Northstar.

The Council approved light rail in the Southwest Corridor as the “locally preferred alternative” in May 2010 and submitted a federal “New Starts” application to the FTA in August 2010.  Funding for capital costs is expected to come from four sources:  The Counties Transit Improvement Board’s five-county sales tax (30 percent), the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority (10 percent), State of Minnesota (10 percent) and the FTA (50 percent).

The approval letter from the FTA specifically notes that the Council needs to continue work to resolve the relocation of a freight rail line in St. Louis Park. The Council has been and will continue to address this and other issues in order to keep the Southwest Corridor moving forward. The letter from the FTA is attached.

The Metropolitan Council is the regional planning organization in the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Council runs the regional bus and light rail system and Northstar commuter rail, collects and treats wastewater, coordinates regional water resources, plans regional parks and administers funds that provide housing opportunities for low- and moderate-income families. The Council board is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the Governor.

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