The Metropolitan Council announced Monday that it has reached an agreement with Hennepin County to pay for the remaining cost overruns on the Southwest light rail project, which has been the subject of two highly critical reports from Minnesota’s legislative auditor.
The 14.5 mile extension of the Green Line was supposed to open this year at a cost of $2.003 billion. In early 2022, the Met Council revealed that the project would cost about $2.767 billion and open in 2027, four years behind schedule and $700 million over budget.
In a March report, the Office of the Legislative Auditor estimated that the Met Council had a remaining funding gap of about $272 million.
“As of December 2022, the Metropolitan Council had secured $381 million of the $764 million forecasted overrun — $331 million from Hennepin County and an additional $50 million in federal funds — leaving about $383 million of the project’s estimated budget unfunded. On December 21, 2022, the Council approved plans to reallocate $111 million in federal funds already allocated to the Metropolitan Council for other purposes to the Southwest LRT project. This reallocation still needs to be approved by the FTA, but if approved, the forecasted deficit will be reduced to about $272 million,” the report said.
The Met Council said Monday that this remaining funding deficit will be closed using a mix of dollars from Hennepin County’s transit sales tax and federal funds available to the Met Council. Hennepin County will provide 55% of the funds, according to a Met Council press release.
“While it’s nice to hear how the additional costs of the Southwest light rail boondoggle are going to be paid for, it’s unfortunate that taxpayers will be on the hook,” said Rep. John Petersburg, the Republican transportation lead in the Minnesota House.
“This predicament could have easily been avoided if Gov. Walz and his Met Council appointees had not rubber-stamped every project cost overrun. Because of these poor decisions, this project has nearly doubled in cost and is still years away from completion,” he added.
The funding agreement still needs to be approved by the Met Council and the Hennepin County Board. Hennepin County has already provided about $1 billion in funding to the project.