As reported in July by Minn Post’s Adam Platt and more broadly publicized last week in an article by Janet Moore in the Star Tribune, the Met Council’s project to extend light rail 14.5 miles from Minneapolis downtown to Eden Prairie now has an unknown total cost and unknown delivery date. Costs have blown past the initial budget and contingency budget dollars, and the rail will not be operational by 2023.
The Met Council’s public website for the project continues to lie about total costs and expected first-passengers delivery date in the “Project Facts” and “Project Timeline” sections.
The total costs may well be “$150 million to $200 million a mile” per Southwest project director Jim Alexander, quoted in the Star Tribune article.
To put this in context, adding a city freeway lane costs $15 million per lane-mile and repaving an asphalt street in our cities costs just under $1 million per lane-mile. For every adult in Hennepin county, the LRT construction cost is $2900, just over 2-years-worth of round-trip fares for a daily bus rider and more than 3-years-worth of commute costs for a car driver on that route. If we divided the $2.9 Billion construction cost by the 17,000 daily rides, we could have just handed each of those expected commuters $170,000 and encouraged them to hire a private driver.
And with the downturn of travel of any sort to downtown Minneapolis due to work-from-home shifts and downtown crime safety concerns, the already-reduced forecasts for 17,000 trips daily on this line are looking more like fiction every day.
The question becomes: having wasted this much money and time on a project with no possible positive cost-benefit nor even sufficient anticipated ridership numbers to pay the ongoing operating expenses, will anyone have the courage to cancel it?
The Southwest Light Rail (SW LRT) has been controversial since it was first proposed. The Met Council, appointed by (DFL) governors creatively promoted and financed the project with promises of Federal funds, an added sales tax in Hennepin County and overly optimistic statements about how construction complexities would be resolved. US Senators Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have been enthusiastic supporters of the project and participated in the 2018 “groundbreaking” ceremonies.