Another setback for troubled light rail line as water floods condo parking garage

When it rains it pours, nonstop in the case of the seemingly doomed Southwest Light Rail Transit Line under construction. The latest debacle in the most expensive public works project in Minnesota history resulted from a broken water line, flooding the parking garage of a condominium complex already threatened by the construction.

Residents told Fox-9 the incident only increased their concerns over the project’s impact on their property under the direction of the Met Council.

Sunday’s parking garage flood only added to the unsettling feeling around the building, residents said.

Vanne Owens Hayes, the condo association president, said she was among those who scrambled to move their cars out of harm’s way at 7 a.m.

“It sounded like Minnehaha Falls,” she said. “I stood at the end of the ramp and looked over. The sound you heard, you swore you were at Minnehaha Falls because it was coming so fast.”

The problem popped up even though the Met Council paused construction on the section of the controversial line just outside the condos a month ago. No one has a better view of the unfolding catastrophe than the residents.

From their units in the tower, condo owners can see the partially built, half-mile Kenilworth tunnel feet from their building.

Construction has fallen silent since Jan. 27, when residents noticed cracks appearing on floors three through 10 of the condo tower and scrambled to alert project officials. Then, on Sunday morning, condo owners woke up to neighbors pounding on their doors to tell them the basement parking garage was flooding. A water line serving the light rail construction site had failed.

“It seems to be one continuous problem,” Jim Nikora, who owns a unit in the Calhoun Isles, said while showing FOX 9 the damage. “They come at you so fast.”

The embarrassing incident comes on the heels of the Met Council admitting the line will be some $700 million or more over budget and open for business four years behind schedule. The revelation prompted bipartisan calls for an audit of the project, as well as calls to fire the Met Council by DFL legislators who’ve been longtime SWLRT supporters, but apparently have had second thoughts.

State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, has also introduced a bill to transfer control of the project to the state Department of Transportation.

“What is it about the Met Council that causes that agency to close its eyes to really important considerations?” Dibble said at a legislative hearing last week. “They were told time and time again that these (condo) towers were unique and highly susceptible to disturbance.”

It’s difficult to see how transferring responsibility to another agency will fix the problems inherent to constructing a tunnel 20 feet under the water table. Whatever the outcome, legislation already on the books fortunately ensures that Hennepin County, rather than state, taxpayers will be on the hook to pay for the mounting cost overruns.