New report on Southwest light rail project will focus on Met Council oversight of contractors

In March, the $2.76 billion project received a scathing review from the OLA and legislators from both parties.

Met Council
A 2022 report said construction of a tunnel in the Kenilworth Corridor has been "beset by problems," contributing to the delays and cost overruns. (Met Council)

The Office of the Legislative Auditor will release the second of two program evaluation reports as part of its 2023 audit of the Southwest light rail project on Wednesday morning.

The heavily scrutinized $2.76 billion extension of the Metropolitan Council’s light rail Green Line will span 14.5 miles between Minneapolis and Eden Prairie. It’s been under the microscope of legislators in both major parties since early 2022, when it was found to be more than $700 million over budget and four years behind its originally scheduled completion.

The project, which will include 16 new transit stations along its route, is now set to be completed in 2027. As recently as two years ago, the Met Council had said the project would open by this year.

The Legislative Auditor’s March 2023 report concluded the Met Council was not fully transparent with the public about significant cost overruns for the Southwest light rail project, and continued to make decisions that increased the cost even as its committed funding dried up.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor — led by Judy Randall — will release its updated program evaluation report on the project at 8 a.m. The report is expected to focus on the Metropolitan Council’s oversight of contractors for the project.

An hour later Randall and OLA staff will present the new report to the 12-member Legislative Audit Commission. The meeting will be livestreamed on YouTube, the OLA said in a tweet. The SWLRT project has been criticized by members on both sides of the political aisle.

The commission consists of six Republicans and six DFLers from the House and Senate. It’s chaired by Sen. Rick Hanson, DFL-South St. Paul.

Legislative Audit Commission Vice Chair Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, has recently called for abolishing the Met Council and returning oversight of major infrastructure projects to cities, counties, and the legislature, which “must meet necessary transparency and accountability measures.”

Another member of the Legislative Audit Commission, Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, introduced a bill during the 2023 legislation session to create a task force that would evaluate whether the Met Council should become an elected body. Currently, the board is appointed by the governor.

Although Gov. Tim Walz has also criticized the years of delays and overspending on the SWLRT, in January he announced he was reappointing Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle to a new four-year term. Gubernatorial cabinet appointees can serve in their post until they are either confirmed or not confirmed by a vote of the full Minnesota Senate.

In May a Senate Transportation Committee voted to recommend appointment of Zelle to a new term on a divided voice vote, with Republicans voting against the confirmation. A full vote never came before the full Senate, where Democrats hold just a one-seat advantage.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.