Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Did the Massive Federal Spending Bill Just Screw Up Funding for Southwest LRT?

Newspaper article MinnPost.com

Did the Massive Federal Spending Bill Just Screw Up Funding for Southwest LRT?

Article excerpt

A short section in the thick, $1.1 trillion federal budget bill passed over the weekend has raised questions about hoped-for federal money for the massive Southwest LRT project.

The language, said former U.S. Rep. Martin Sabo, displays a change in policy led by congressional Republicans to reduce the federal government's share of proposed light rail plans known as New Starts. While the Met Council has been budgeting for the Federal Transit Administration to cover half the cost of the $1.65 billion extension, the budget language indicates the federal share could fall to 40 percent.

If that's the case, when Met Council makes its request for a full- funding agreement -- when the federal government gives its final approval for a project and provides its share of the cost -- the council would need to find an additional $165 million from state and local sources. That would be on top of the more than $800 million they are currently expected to pay.

A spokeswoman for the project said Monday that the budget language covers projects that are seeking money in 2015. Southwest LRT will not be asking for money until 2016. "The Continuing Resolution pertains to (fiscal year) 2015 and only affects New Starts projects submitted for that fiscal year. At this point, it's not possible to determine the impact on projects after (fiscal year) 2015," Laura Baenen said via email.

Sabo, who represented the 5th Congressional District from 1979 to 2007, said there are two problems with that reasoning. "I think this is likely to stand in future Republican budgets," he said. And the same budget expressed intent that only New Start projects rated "medium high" or "high" will be funded. The SWLRT project is rated "medium." The ratings are an assessment of projected ridership, economic development impacts and environmental benefits, among other factors.

Sabo said he supports light rail and helped secure funding for the original Blue Line, but said the route chosen for SWLRT doesn't make sense, he said.

Sabo's analysis was touted by opponents of the currently approved route of the extension, especially its passage through the Kenilworth Corridor. …

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