Groundbreaking begins for Southwest Light Rail in Minneapolis

Written by Paul Conley, Editor-in-Chief
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Photo courtesy of Metropolitan Council

More than 10 years after it was proposed, construction work will begin on the Southwest Light Rail system. The 14.5-mile line will connect downtown Minneapolis to the suburb of Eden Prairie.

“Southwest LRT is becoming a reality,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff. “This project is the result of partnerships, at the federal, state, county, local and community level. Its planning alone has attracted millions of private economic development along the corridor, generating a return on investment before the first shovels even hit the ground. And once it’s built, it will connect thousands of people across the region with jobs, education, opportunities and more.”

For some time it appeared the system might not ever be built. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) granted preliminary engineering approval in 2011. But in May 2016 a plan to fund the project with state funds was withdrawn. Lawsuits and concerns about environmental impacts also slowed the process.

But in November 2018, the FTA issued a “letter of no prejudice” for the project, effectively committing the federal government to covering nearly half of the estimated $2 billion to build the line.

Winning bidders

Also in November, the Metropolitan Council awarded the construction contract for the system to a joint venture of Lunda Construction Co., based in Black River Falls, Wis., and C.S. McCrossan, based in Maple Grove, Minn. The joint venture won the contract with a $799 million bid.

Lunda and McCrossan will have to earn their money. The project promises to be a complicated one, requiring coordination with both the Twin Cities & Western Railroad and BNSF Railway while building an extensive array of structures, including

  • 29 new bridges (LRT, pedestrian, freight and roadway)
  • Seven existing bridges to be modified
  • Six pedestrian tunnels
  • Two “cut-and-cover” LRT tunnels, a 582-foot tunnel under state Highway 62 on the Minnetonka-Eden Prairie border and a 2,236-foot tunnel in the Kenilworth corridor of Minneapolis
  • Over 100 retaining walls

Early construction activities this winter could include staffing and equipment mobilization, site clearance, demolition and utility work, according to the Metro Council. Heavy construction would occur in 2019-2022, with testing of the system with new light rail vehicles anticipated in 2022-2023. Passenger service is expected to launch in 2023 as an extension of the METRO Green Line.

Categories: Ballast, Ties, Rail, Bridge/Retaining Walls/Tunnels, Rapid Transit/Light Rail, Track Structure
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