President Barack Obama is apparently a supporter of expanded light rail in the Twin Cities area.
The Obama Administration announced today that the Southwest Light Rail project is one of two projects in the country that will be expedited due to the "We Can't Wait" initiative.
That initiative aims to speed up the various processes required to get a big project off the ground. In the case of Southwest LRT, the Federal Transit Administration is using an enhanced coordination process with other federal agencies as well as exploring using the NEPA/Clean Water Act merger process, which is estimated to save several months by aligning multiple permit and review processes to work concurrently instead of sequentially.
The target date for completing federal permits and reviews is November 2014.
The Southwest Light Rail line, which will connect downtown Minneapolis with Eden Prairie via a route through the west metro suburbs, is anticipated to open in 2018.
Costs are estimated to run around $1.25 billion. The FTA is expected to pay for up to half of the line, with local sources picking up the rest. To date, local legislators have failed to secure $25 million in bonding bill funding. Gov. Mark Dayton did approve a $2 million grant for Southwest LRT last month.
Hennepin County commissioner Gail Dorfman said the announcement definitely comes as good news.
She said for the FTA to make the project a priority is "very significant," though she added that she didn't expect the anticipated opening date to move up.
"But you never know," Dorfman said.
As far as dollars and cents, the commissioner said Monday's announcement "certainly sends a signal" to the legislature that more funding should be approved.
Ultimately, Dorfman said she thinks the process is going well.
"It kind of seems like things are lining up," she said.
On behalf of the state’s five largest local chambers of commerce (TwinWest, the Edina Chamber of Commerce, the Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce, the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce), TwinWest Chamber Director of Government Affairs Judy Johnson issued the following statement:
This is great news for commuters, workers, and job providers in the Twin Cities. Southwest LRT is strongly supported by Minnesotans, the business community, and cities in the southwest metro.
In today’s announcement, the White House confirms this is one of the most important transportation projects in the country and they're going to do everything they can to help move this project along as quickly as possible.
We need more transportation options if we’re going to grow jobs and stay competitive with other regions. Southwest LRT will help serve 60,000 new private sector workers, provide 10 million rides a year, improve our region’s quality of life, and reduce traffic congestion.
Met Council chairwoman Susan Haigh said, in a statement, that "the announcement affirms the status of the Southwest LRT Project as a high-ranking and viable project, and the work we are doing with all the involved and committed partners to create a 21st century transit system."
You can read Haigh's full statement here.