Southwest Light Rail planners have always liked the idea of putting the line’s operations and maintenance facility in Hopkins because it’s more centrally located than the competing location at the end of the line in Eden Prairie.
Train drivers will have to be returned to the facility at the end of their shifts, said Craig Lamothe, Southwest LRT’s deputy project director. Dropping them off in Hopkins would save 15 to 20 minutes of travel time compared to returning them to the proposed Eden Prairie site.
That may not sound like much, but Lamothe said it could force the line to use a seven-hour schedule for its drivers because of limits to the number of hours they can drive. And unlike other modes of transportation, drivers can’t just be dropped off somewhere along the line. They have to be returned to the facility where their car is parked.
In all, planners estimate that Metro Transit would have to hire six more train drivers if the facility is at Eden Prairie compared to what it would have to hire for a Hopkins facility. That adds up to an extra half a million each year in salary and benefits.
Hopkins officials are fighting to keep the Southwest operations and maintenance facility out of the community because it would eliminate redevelopment opportunities and remove property from the city’s tax rolls. They argue that’s unjust when Hopkins is so much smaller than other cities along the line.
For a time, Hopkins’ best argument was that the Eden Prairie site would be cheaper. The last estimates for building the light rail’s maintenance facility pegged the costs at $95 million to $100 million for the Eden Prairie site and $100 million to $105 million cost for the Hopkins site near K-Tel Drive.
But Eden Prairie costs continue to climb. Putting a facility there would use land that Eden Prairie’s maintenance facility now sits on. The original estimate envisioned saving money by allowing the city to rebuild its maintenance facility on an existing piece of public property that wouldn’t have to be purchased. However, planners have since learned that that property won’t work, and Eden Prairie estimates must now factor in compensation to the city so that it can acquire new land.
These new additions have pushed the Eden Prairie costs at least as high as the Hopkins costs, and possibly a little higher, Lamothe said. That erases any savings Eden Prairie once had over Hopkins.
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the facility will go in Hopkins, though. One of the project’s three principles for making major decisions is finding solutions that share benefits and burdens equally among communities along the line, and local officials continue to argue that a maintenance facility is unduly onerous.
Project planners expect to recommend their preferred site in September.