- The Metropolitan Council has changed the project parameters for the $1.9 billion Minneapolis-area Southwest LRT project, pushing back the anticipated opening from 2022 to 2023, according to the Star Tribune.
- One of the changes to the 14.5-mile project's bid documents can be attributed to the addition of a $20 million crash protection wall that will divide the Southwest LRT's trains from freight trains passing close by. New environmental studies must now be conducted to determine the effect of the wall, which would be as high as 10 feet in some areas.
- This latest revision to the project specs has also pushed the rebid date back from Jan. 9 to May 3. Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Council rejected its original bids because they were deemed too expensive. The council also said the involvement of 36 contractors who had participated in early planning work created a conflict of interest.
The beleaguered Southwest LRT project has been a source of tension among interest groups since its inception. State Republicans denied the project the funding necessary to secure matching federal funds, potentially killing its chances of securing a grant. The Council, with the support of the governor, however, managed to rally local agencies coming up with the money themselves.
Since then, the relationship between Minnesota GOP members and the Southwest LRT group has been somewhat antagonistic. Earlier this year, Minnesota Republicans issued a request to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that the agency divert any future funds for the Southwest LRT to other state transportation projects instead, but the FTA denied that request. The Metropolitan Council has not yet officially applied for the $900 million grant but it has been promised funding.
These rail projects, which have significant price tags and often build their cases on estimated ridership figures, can face obstacles outside of the state legislature. The land acquisition process, particularly, and scuffles with environmental groups can threaten to derail new rail projects and expansions.
Maryland's near-$6 billion Purple Line has only recently been able to continue making progress after months of legal wrangling. A judge revoked state and federal approvals after agreeing with a local advocacy group's lawsuit, which alleged that the original ridership figures for the line were not accurate. Groups also argued that the project would destroy trees and a de facto park that had sprung up around old railroad tracks.
The state and project officials were successful in their appeals, however, and another judge reinstated the project's approvals, allowing construction to move forward while the final appeal decision is pending.