It must’ve been painful for Adam Duininck to admit defeat on the Southwest Light Rail Transit Project:
“When I say that all options are on the table I mean that,” Duininck said. “We have to take a pause and figure out how to proceed because this project is on uncertain ground right now, The question we have to ask ourselves is, at $2 billion is there a cost benefit there, is it worth pursuing at that price?”
If it is not worth pursuing, Duininck said, then the region will have to decide, “then what?” As a supporter of regional transit and the project, Duininck admitted that the news was discouraging. “It feels like a setback,” he said. “It gets your attention, but it also can be an opportunity to talk about whether the corridor is the right corridor and whether that service is the right service for the area and whether the region has a commitment to transit in general.”
While it’s a setback for Duininck and the Met Council, it’s a victory for the taxpayers. Transit projects are heavily subsidized in terms of operations. That’s before calculating in the cost of building the corridor. That’s before factoring in how much studies cost or holding town hall meetings to deal with complaints that people have with the project.
With the SWLRT project, environmental organizations were fighting the Met Council every step of the way. This was never going to be a smooth process. That’s what led to this:
Series of problems led to cost hikes
It turns out, though, that it was not one problem that increased the costs but a series of them: some environmental, some engineering and some relating to safety. The deeper analysis identified more wetlands and floodplains that must be protected, additional issues with soft soil conditions and contamination, additional retaining walls as well as the need for additional safety gates and bells at intersections of rail and existing roads. The project staff even decided on more extensive ventilation for the planned tunnel in the Kenilworth Corridor in reaction to the fatal January fire in a Washington, D.C. Metro tunnel.
The Met Council broke down some of the major cost increases:
- $32 million for additional retaining walls, excavation, pile and shoring;
- $23 million for added costs for Kenilworth Tunnel foundation and ventilation;
- $21 million for increased costs of the operations and maintenance facility building;
- $13 million for added safety at crossings.
- $45 million-$50 million for costs of the one-year delay;
- $33 million for additional land purchases;
- $85 million for increased contingency reserve
- $19 million for additional train sets the review shows are needed to maintain the service levels promised.
Then there’s this consideration:
One change that raised eyebrows was the report that 99 additional businesses would have to be relocated as part of the project. How could planners not see that many businesses? Yet SWLRT project director Mark Fuhrman said that just two locations — a technology incubator with two dozen businesses inside and a mini-storage facility — make up the bulk of those businesses. Both are in Hopkins.
It’s time to let the SWLRT project die. It’s time to admit that it was just a bad fit.