There is general agreement that the difficulties with extending the Green Line (the South Western Light Rail project) are primarily related to the long ‘cut and cover’ tunnel at Kenilworth Corridor.
Newspaper coverage of this project’s delays and cost increases often blames the D.C. for poor planning, poor communication with the general contractor, not being open about needing more money, and not listening to neighbors.
After attending dozens of public planning meetings over a decade, some of the accusations are hard to believe. We heard open and vigorous discussion among the citizens who supported the Kenilworth Road and others who wanted the train to be placed in South Minneapolis. Board members listened carefully and eventually chose Kenilworth Road because it met the cost and passenger criteria that would be eligible for federal matching funds.
Much of the council’s current criticism comes from people who supported the South Minneapolis option and from lawmakers in their state. We feel the need to add context.
The updated cost-per-mile estimate for this project ($190 million) is lower than comparable projects in Seattle, Portland, Phoenix, and Los Angeles and similar to many others (see recent legislative auditor report for cost comparison). This means that the original cost estimates were unrealistically low, rather than that the final costs were too high or that the construction was inefficient or wasteful.
Many factors outside the Met Council’s control contributed to the delay. A group of neighbors sued to stop the construction, alleging improper road selection. A judge judged them. Initial engineering that showed the tunnel would not adversely affect nearby lakes was challenged. An external hydrological advisor was appointed and after several months confirmed the feasibility of the original plans. None of these experts had expected to find large boulders so deep in the soil of the sandy region.
Neighbors requested that no pile driving be done near their homes, so a very slow “pile pressing” was used to build the tunnel walls. Significant time was lost trying to persuade the TC&W railroad to move its operations out of this narrow corridor, as had been originally agreed upon. I refused.
BNSF Rail’s order for a $90 million crash wall came in at the eleventh hour. It seemed excessive in scope, but had to be honored for an easement for the area between Target Field and Bryn Mawr stations.
Available funding sources to help cover rising costs dried up as state legislators became reluctant to allocate money for metro projects, and suburban counties bailed out from the County Transportation Improvement Board. The legislative auditor’s report describing the resulting “mismatch” between Southwest’s financial needs and its funding sources is accurate, but not the Met Council’s fault.
There is no doubt that the Council was wrong. But we need to resist the human temptation to jump to simple answers and simple solutions. It’s important to get this right, while looking for better ways to fund future projects, and while considering whether or not the elected board members will actually do a better job.
Barry Shedd and Richard Adair are both neighbors of Bryn Mawr in Minneapolis.