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Met Council OKs $250M in cuts to save Southwest light rail line

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The Metropolitan Council has voted to approve a new plan for the proposed Southwest light rail line from downtown Minneapolis to Eden Prairie, which includes the elimination of one stop, to trim $250 million and rescue the project.

The council voted 15-1 in favor of the new plan at its Wednesday meeting, according to a news release from the agency.

The biggest item on the list is the elimination of the westernmost station at Mitchell Road in Eden Prairie.

Instead, the rail line would end at the Southwest station, which is already a transit hub for commuters in the southwestern suburb.

Other changes include delaying construction of another station at the Eden Prairie Mall, cutting back on the size of park and ride lots, and trimming spending on landscaping and public art.

All of the stations in Minneapolis remain in the final plan; however, the $12 million Cedar Lake bike trail crossing in the city was cut. (A complete list of all the cuts is here.)

The project originally had a price tag of $1.65 billion. But it jumped to $1.994 billion following additional engineering and environmental studies that found poor ground conditions and soil contamination along the route. The higher costs threatened to doom the project altogether.

The Met Council and the communities along the line recently agreed on this package of cuts to bring the cost down to $1.74 billion.

But that's still $90 million more than the original price tag, so the local governments involved all pledged additional local funding to bridge the gap and help attract more federal funding.

Since the scope of the project has been significantly changed, it will need to be approved again by all the municipalities involved. The Met Council said that process would get underway in the next few weeks.

One big piece of funding is still in question: the state had earlier agreed to chip in about $165 million. But the state Legislature has not yet appropriated that money, and Republican leaders have said they are not in favor of the project.

The modified route will be 14.4 miles long, about a mile and a half shorter than the original, and will have 15 stops instead of the original 17.

The light rail line is scheduled to open in 2020, and officials predict weekday ridership will reach 34,000 by 2040.

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