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Southwest Light-Rail Left Out of Dayton's $1 Billion Bonding Bill

The inability of St. Louis Park and Minneapolis' Kenilworth neighborhood to reach an agreement on the location of the freight rail line has created funding obstacles for the Southwest light-rail project.

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
Gov. Mark Dayton announced his almost $1 billion bonding bill proposal on Wednesday, including tens of millions of dollars earmarked for higher education campuses, health care, a drinking water program, roads and bridges and other infrastructure improvements.

But missing—for the second year in a row—is any funding for the Southwest light-rail project.

"The cost of these [light-rail] projects is prohibitive, unless you want to start excluding $125 million of very worthwhile projects elsewhere in the state," Dayton said Wednesday, according to Minnesota Public Radio. "I don't know that the Legislature has any willingness to take that on this year, particularly given the stalemate right now with Southwest light rail." 

The state is on the hook for about a tenth of the light rail project's total cost, currently estimated at around $1.5 billion. Minnesota's already committed $44 million, but will soon need to find about $100 million in funding.

Options being considered by Dayton and the Metropolitan Council include a metro-wide sales tax or the sale of bonds related to the statewide motor vehicle sales tax.

The Southwest light rail project, which will get half its funding from the federal government, is expected to post up state and local dollars by the summer, a timeline made difficult by the continued inability for St. Louis Park and the Kenilworth neighborhood of Minneapolis to reach a consensus on the route freight rail should take.

Dayton seems somewhat untroubled by the time crunch. It's been three months since he asked the Met Council to delay a decision on the project and he's said that a legislative solution to the funding issue unlikely until 2015.

Met Council chair Sue Haigh told MPR she's confident that funding will be found in time, but Ron Latz, St. Louis Park's DFL state senator, said he worried local support might not appear swiftly enough.

"They've got lots of demand from around the country for those dollars," he told MPR. "It's going to be redirected to some other community that has demonstrated their commitment to moving forward with their light rail project."
 
But a funding delay is good news for the project's opponents, like State Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, who said she was glad the project wasn't included in the bonding bill.

"I'm not aware of any strong support from Republican members in the southwest suburbs," she told MPR. "It's a very expensive project — the most expensive light rail project proposed in this area."

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