Southwest LRT costs climb again

Met Council planners predict higher costs, but more riders, too

The predicted cost of the Southwest light rail transit (LRT) project continues to rise, but so do expectations for the number of riders it will attract.

New figures confirmed Friday by the Metropolitan Council show estimated costs for Southwest LRT now total $1.58 billion–$1.82 billion. For several years, planners cited a $1.25 billion cost estimate for the project, but they revised those figures upward in mid July when it was revealed various options for dealing with a freight rail line running along a portion of the future LRT path would add $120 million–$420 million to the cost of the project.

Based on new information presented July 25 to two project committees, various technical engineering issues unrelated to the freight rail — including station and platform design — are driving costs even higher.

Those committees learned ridership estimates for the 15.8-mile line connecting Eden Prairie and downtown Minneapolis are rising, too. Planners predict 34,000–36,000 average weekday boardings by 2030, up from a previous estimate of 29,000 average weekday boardings by 2030.

The line is expected to begin operation in 2018. Planning now is in the preliminary engineering phase.

A Met Council vote on the various options for dealing with freight rail, including tunneling LRT beneath Minneapolis’ Kenilworth Corridor or rerouting freight through St. Louis Park, is scheduled for Aug. 28.