Trump’s Budget Leaves Southwest LRT High and Dry

Plans for the new rail line continue to advance despite funding uncertainties.

Photo Credit: Metro Transit

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s budget plan is out, and it spells trouble for the Metropolitan Council’s Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project.

The White House’s budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year, A New Foundation For American Greatness, aims to cut federal spending by $4.5 trillion over the next decade. The proposed cuts put funding for future transit lines, like the SWLRT, in jeopardy.

Following through on previous statements, the budget proposal will only fulfill funding requests for transit projects who had their Full Funding Grant Agreement in place by October 2016. Requests following the cut-off date will be denied funding from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The SWLRT project has not yet applied for federal funding, leaving the project ineligible for the $929 million in federal funds.

Minnesota Rep. Jason Lewis has been an outspoken critic of the SWLRT project, calling it a “prime example of taxpayers being forced to foot the bill for a project with little-to-no benefit.”

“We need to protect taxpayers in Minnesota and not waste federal funds,” Lewis said in a statement. “I’m working for real infrastructure improvements that will actually help commuters in the Twin Cities area. I’m glad that the Administration is working with me towards a goal of effective spending.”

SWLRT faces local funding trouble as well. The recent dismantling of the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) gives Hennepin County sole responsibility for local funding of the project. This could force the county to spend an extra $103.5 million on the extension, bringing its total contribution to $289 million.

Despite the uncertainty of local funds and a potential $929 million gap in federal funding, plans for construction of the 14.5 mile line extension between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie are still moving forward. The deadline for construction bids has been pushed out for a third time. Contractors now must have their bids in by June 9. Construction is expected to start in late summer.

Christine Bauman