Mpls approves Southwest LRT, paving way for legislature to wrangle over funding

A map of the Southwest LRT line's proposed route.
A map of the Southwest LRT line's proposed route.
Images via Met Council and Mulad on Flickr

Today, the Minneapolis City Council followed its counterparts in Eden Prairie, Minnetonka, Hopkins, and St. Louis Park in approving the proposed alignment of the Southwest LRT line.

After years of city-level wrangling, the 9-3 vote (council members Barb Johnson, Cam Gordon, and Lisa Goodman voted 'no') paves the way for the drama to shift to the legislature next year, as the state still needs to figure out how to fund 10 percent of the $1.653 billion public works project, which is the most expensive in state history.

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The funding breakdown is as follows -- 50 percent from the feds, 10 percent from the state, 30 percent from the five-county Counties Transit Improvement Board, and 10 percent from the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority.

Asked if Hennepin County's involvement in all five of those entities means it's reasonable to infer Hennepin County taxpayers will pay more for Southwest LRT than taxpayers from any other county, Meredith Vadis, communications director for the Metropolitan Council, says, "I guess you could go there."

Hennepin County and the Transit Improvement Board have already committed their full share of the project funding, and it doesn't sound as though officials expect to have too much trouble obtaining federal dollars. But the big hurdle will be at the legislature, where the rest of the state's portion of the funding (the state has already committed $44 million) is sure to be a controversial topic next session.

Vadis tells us there are at least two ways lawmakers could come up with the bucks -- either through bonding, or via a transportation funding bill that would impose a metro sales tax for transit projects.

In the meantime, engineers will be hard at work completing design work for the project, including track features, bridges and tunnels, station design, park and ride facilities, freight rail features, public art, streetscape, and utility relocation.

"Hopefully we'll have a few months of quiet before then," Vadis says, referring to the impending political battle over Southwest LRT.

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.

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