The Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, Minn., and Twin Cities & Western Railroad (TC&W) announced July 16 that the parties had come to an agreement on the future of the Southwest Light Rail Transit (LRT) project.
“We are pleased to announce that the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, the Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority, and Twin Cities & Western Railroad have tentatively reached resolution of the remaining issues resulting from the colocation of freight rail and light rail in the Kenilworth Corridor and Bass Lake Spur. The resolution will be presented to the relevant boards at their upcoming July meetings for approval,” a joint statement read.
The agreements are set to go before the Hennepin County Board, Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority and the Metropolitan Council for consideration.
After the governing bodies approve and finalize the arrangement with TC&W, officials said they are hopeful the Surface Transportation Board (STB) will issue a favorable ruling.
Considering the time needed to finalize the agreement with TC&W and allow for an adequate STB review, representatives said the decision from the STB is expected to take place later than the timeline that was originally requested.
Due to the schedule changes, Metropolitan Council Chair Alene Tchourumoff also announced that the council has asked bidders on the Southwest LRT civil construction contract to extend their bid validity for another 60 days.
Bids are currently set to expire on Aug. 1, and bidders have been given 10 business days to respond to the council’s request, officials said.
In an effort to better position the project to receive a Letter of No Prejudice (LONP) from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Tchourumoff requested that the FTA cease consideration of the council’s current application. Tchourumoff said the council will re-submit an application following the finalization of the TC&W agreement.
Officials said a resubmission that includes an executed agreement with TC&W would position the project to be eligible for an LONP, and also for a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) in 2019.
The receipt of LONP would enable the project to start construction prior to the FFGA, using local funds, officials said. Costs incurred under an LONP would be matched by federal funding should the project obtain an FFGA.
“This region expects almost a million more people between 2010 and 2040. To accommodate such growth, we must build Southwest LRT, which is critical to the economic health and mobility of our region,” Tchourumoff said. “The continued ability of this project to overcome significant challenges, including reaching agreements to share rail corridors with three different freight rail companies, is no small feat. This important project continues to move forward because of our partnership with Hennepin County and the commitment of so many local officials, project staff, and residents to see it become a reality.”
After its completion, the 14.5-mile transit line is set to better link passengers to jobs in Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Hopkins, Minnetonka, and Eden Prairie. The construction of the line is also expected to create 7,500 jobs, officials said.