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$2 billion Southwest Light Rail line gets green light from the federal government

Construction could start as soon as this winter.

The $2 billion Southwest Light Rail line took a major step to becoming a reality on Wednesday, as the federal government approved its funding of the transit project.

The Federal Transit Administration issued a "letter of no prejudice" for the project, which makes it eligible for federal funding covering $929 million of the total costs.

With the backing, the Metropolitan Council says that early construction work on what is expected to be a four-year project could start as soon as this winter.

"This news is long-awaited and hard-earned," said Governor Mark Dayton on Wednesday. 

"The Southwest Light Rail Transit project is a critical economic development project for the people of Minnesota. When complete, it will improve many thousands of lives from Eden Prairie to North Minneapolis. It will create new jobs, reduce highway congestion, and better connect Minnesotans to one another."

If you're not familiar with the project, or need a refresher, here's a look at the proposed route for the line.

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It continues on from where the Green line ends at Target Field, cutting a path between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles, before making its way through St. Louis Park, Hopkins, eastern Minnetonka, and then ending in Eden Prairie.

There will be 16 stops on the 14.5 mile line, with 2,500 park and ride spaces positioned in 9 lots along the route.

.The intention is for construction work to start potentially in January or February, with heavy construction continuing until 2022, before trains start running in 2023.

Met Council chair Alene Tchourumoff says that federal approval received Wednesday means the council will on Thursday award a construction contract.

Hennepin County and the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority will also hold special meetings on Thursday, where members are expected to agree to provide $435 million of funding for the early construction activities.

The project is estimated to create 7,500 construction jobs over the course of the next few years.

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