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Disputes over Southwest light-rail derails opening by year or more

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Disputes over the controversial Southwest light-rail project could delay the opening a year or more and add millions of dollars to the cost of the already expensive project, according to media reports.

The Corridor Management Committee heard Wednesday that disagreements on routes for the $1.55 billion light rail line have pushed the projected opening dates back to 2019 or as late as 2021, KARE 11 says. Original plans to complete the Green Line extension from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie was set for 2018.

The Corridor Management Committee is poised to make a recommendation on whether to hide the light-rail line in tunnels alongside freight trains in the Kenliworth corridor of Minneapolis or reroute the freight trains through St. Louis Park – there is little support outside of Minneapolis to reroute the freight line, the Star Tribune says, while Minneapolis officials have opposed one tunnel plan and have doubts about other tunnel options, the newspaper says.

Peter Wagenius, top policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, doesn't believe the city will vote with the majority when the committee is expected to make its recommendation to the Metropolitan Council, the agency planning the project, at an April 2 meeting, the Star Tribune says.

Building tunnels or rerouting freight trains, and the delays in deciding between the two, could push the cost of the project to $1.7 billion or higher. Adding a tunnel to carry the light-rail trains under the channel between Lake of the Isles and Cedar Lake would delay the project opening until 2020, while rerouting the freight traffic through St. Louis Park would delay the opening until 2021, according to media reports.

Because of all the setbacks in the planning stages of the project, the Southwest light-rail could be competing with over 15 similar projects across the country for New Starts program money, Finance & Commerce says.

"We dither at our peril. People need to understand, we're talking about half the money for the project," Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin told MPR News. "If we don't move forward, people will pass us."

When the project was first announced it was the frontrunner of 10 light-rail projects around the country for the federal funding, according to KARE.

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