The Southwest Light Rail now won't open until 2027, and it'll end up costing as much as $2.75 billion, the Metropolitan Council, which is overseeing the project, said Wednesday.
This means the 14.5-mile Green Line extension, which will connect Minneapolis and Eden Prairie via St. Louis Park, Hopkins and Minnesota, will open four years later than expected.
And what was already the state's largest public works project at $2 billion will now cost hundreds of millions more, with Met Council saying in addition to $200 million in contingency funds it will likely need an additional $450 million to $550 million to complete the project.
It's unclear how Met Council plans to pay for the increased cost of the project.
The Met Council announced this Wednesday after it voted 15-0 to authorize staff to negotiate and finalize a settlement agreement with Lunda McCrossan, the joint venture building the track, stations and structures, after ongoing disputes over changes to the project.
This settlement includes a $40 million payment to Lunda McCrossan in the next 60 days to cover costs the contractor has already incurred.
Met Council says the delays and added cost for the project stem from changes made to the project that weren't part of the original 2018 construction contract. They are:
— Building a 1-mile crash wall between the BNSF freight and LRT tracks in Minneapolis as part of a safety agreement with BNSF
— Changes to the design and construction of the Kenilworth tunnel due to "poor soils" discovered during initial construction
— Building the Eden Prairie Town Center station, which had been deferred but was added back to "meet community priorities"
Met Council said a year ago there would be potential delays for the Southwest LRT over "unforeseen conditions" along the Minneapolis segment of the route, noting it would not open before 2023 but the agency remained tight-lipped on how it could impact the cost of the project.
“We will exceed the time and budget we initially anticipated,” Nick Thompson, Met Council's director of transit capital programs, said in Wednesday's news release. “But we are confident we’re doing what needs to be done to complete this project, to meet community needs, and to address concerns related to adjacent properties, while still capitalizing on the economic development benefits of an infrastructure project of this nature.”
The issues that have plagued the Southwest LRT project have lawmakers demanding accountability and transparency with the Met Council. And Democrats and Republicans are calling for a full audit of the Green Line extension.
The Legislative Commission on Metropolitan Government on Wednesday morning, before Met Council's meeting, focused on the Southwest LRT. They heard a presentation from Met Council and discussed a review from the Office of the Legislative Auditor of the project's costs and management, which found there have been 445 construction change orders that have cost $203 million, the Star Tribune said.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers has said they support changing how the Met Council is governed so members are elected instead of appointed, FOX 9 reports. Gov. Tim Walz, who appointed Met Council's members, said he's open to that change.
Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Park Board recently denied the Metropolitan Council's request to extend the agency's permit to close Cedar Lake Parkway so it can work on the Kenilworth tunnel.
The Met Council has a permit to close the parkway for 180 days, from February to July 10. But the park board voted 5-3 to deny the agency's request to extend the permit to the end of the year, RT & S reports.
The Southwest LRT project is about 60% complete.