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Feds Put Southwest LRT on the Fast Track

The project is one of two being expedited with the "We Can't Wait" initiative.

President Barack Obama is apparently a supporter of expanded light rail in the Twin Cities area.

The Obama Administration announced today that the Southwest Light Rail project is one of two projects in the country that will be expedited due to the "We Can't Wait" initiative.

That initiative aims to speed up the various processes required to get a big project off the ground. In the case of Southwest LRT, the Federal Transit Administration is using an enhanced coordination process with other federal agencies as well as exploring using the NEPA/Clean Water Act merger process, which is estimated to save several months by aligning multiple permit and review processes to work concurrently instead of sequentially.

The target date for completing federal permits and reviews is November 2014.

The Southwest Light Rail line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie via a route through the west metro suburbs, is anticipated to open in 2018.

Costs are estimated to run around $1.25 billion. The FTA is expected to pay for up to half of the line, with local sources picking up the rest. To date, local legislators have failed to secure $25 million in bonding bill funding. Gov. Mark Dayton did approve a $2 million grant for Southwest LRT last month.

The project has also received $47 million from the Hennepin County Regional Rail Authority, the Counties Transit Improvement Board and the state.

Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman said the announcement definitely comes as good news.

She said for the FTA to make the project a priority is "very significant," though she added that she didn't expect the anticipated opening date to move up.

"But you never know," Dorfman said.

As far as dollars and cents, the commissioner said Monday's announcement "certainly sends a signal" to the legislature that more funding should be approved.

Ultimately, Dorfman said she thinks the process is going well.

"It kind of seems like things are lining up," she said.

On behalf of the state’s five largest local chambers of commerce (TwinWest, the Edina Chamber of Commerce, the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce), TwinWest Chamber Director of Government Affairs Judy Johnson issued the following statement:

This is great news for commuters, workers, and job providers in the Twin Cities.  Southwest LRT is strongly supported by Minnesotans, the business community, and cities in the southwest metro. 

In today’s announcement, the White House confirms this is one of the most important transportation projects in the country and they're going to do everything they can to help move this project along as quickly as possible.

We need more transportation options if we’re going to grow jobs and stay competitive with other regions.  Southwest LRT will help serve 60,000 new private sector workers, provide 10 million rides a year, improve our region’s quality of life, and reduce traffic congestion.

Met Council chairwoman Susan Haigh said, in a statement, that "the announcement affirms the status of the Southwest LRT Project as a high-ranking and viable project, and the work we are doing with all the involved and committed partners to create a 21st century transit system."

You can read Haigh's full statement here.

Maury Ballsteen October 04, 2012 at 10:50 PM
David. My man! Not exactly sure how voicing support for the SW LRT is forcing you to live by my beliefs, but I'm pretty excited about it. So lets get started and see if we can't straighten you and your buddy Daryl out. First, you two can calm down. Second, you should realize that no matter how many CAPITAL LETTERS you use, it won't make you sound MORE IMPORTANT. Third, you need to stop labeling people. A single point on an issue does not a political party make. Fourth, try and be more polite. Fifth, you two guys need to relax. I'm sensing a lot of stress here. Lastly, try to limit the superlatives. Talking in absolutes is a terrible way to maintain conversations. It removes the opportunity to have a constructive discourse. I hope you two guys have a great night.
David October 04, 2012 at 11:11 PM
Wow...writing so many lines that add absolutely nothing to the conversation. That's impressive, Bernie. Your debate style is, as they would say in Texas, 'all hat and no cattle.' Way to go, 'my man,' it takes a true narcissist personality to pull off your level of dismissive ignorance of the issue at hand.
Maury Ballsteen October 05, 2012 at 04:08 AM
Thanks David. I figured I'd lower the conversation down to your level so you guys could compete.
David October 05, 2012 at 05:32 AM
No need to thank me, Bernie. Your 'independent thinking' put the bar of this conversation in the dust with your first post. Interesting you think this was a competition - a race to the bottom, obviously. Which is unfair since that's where you started. So congrats, you and your 'independent' mind got there from the starter gun.
Carol October 05, 2012 at 05:05 PM
Daryl, sorry it doesn't give me the option to reply to your reply. I said I was dubious about the price of the rail as in it sounds very high, but I haven't dug deep into the numbers and there are no official bids on the building of the line, that I know of yet. I am however very much in favor of expanding the mass transit options to include rail for the twin cities. Dividends do come in many forms, insisting that the ticket fare for LR must on it's own meet and or exceed the costs of running the line, makes me wonder if you think that we should have to pay a toll each time we use a public roadway to directly recoup the costs of building and maintaining it? Do you? I also concede that other municipalities may have failed in their implementation of rail, but I think that is due to poor execution and _not_ because rail is an inherently flawed form of transit. Rail is a effective when it is used in a very precise way and in conjunction with other forms of mass transit.

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