The opening of the $2 billion Southwest Light Rail Transit will be delayed as construction teams are dealing with "poor soils," among other challenges.
The Metropolitan Council announced Thursday that it is not likely to meet the opening day projection of 2023. While it didn't say how long it would be delayed, its phrasing suggests it will be 2024 at the earliest.
It has cited two reasons for the delay that emerged during the 2020 construction season, among them "poor soils" encountered in the Kenilworth corridor in Minneapolis.
As it began construction on a tunnel, workers found "poor soils" that necessitate an alternative construction method, namely the introduction of secant walls to stabilize the soils while the tunnel is built. The Met Council says it's taking this measure "out of an abundance of caution to protect the foundations of adjacent buildings."
The other reason is that it's now also having to build a 1-mile corridor protection wall to separate light rail trains from freight trains on the BNSF line, where they run parallel between Interstate 94 and the planned Bryn Mawr station.
"This protection wall was added as a requirement of BNSF after final design and civil construction contracting," the council said. "While this element is not a surprise, we have now completed analysis and design for the wall and have a fuller understanding of the challenges of constructing this project element in an active freight rail corridor."
The council said while delays are not uncommon in projects of this size, it's nonetheless "disappointed by this development."
"We strongly believe the long-term benefits of this project to the region and state outweigh the short-term challenges we face," it added.
When completed, the light rail line will cut a path from Target Field in downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, via Bryn Mawr, Bde Maka Ska, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, and Minnetonka.
The Kenilworth corridor, where the poor soil was discovered, runs between Cedar Lake and Lake of the Isles in southwest Minneapolis.
Construction in the corridor proved controversial, with local residents complaining of "deforestation" along the Kenilworth trail, with more than 1,000 trees removed to make way for the rail line.