Has SWLRT received federal funding? Met Council says yes. Not so fast.

The Met Council is breaking out the champagne, and let MinnPost scoop what they claim is a victory on SWLRT federal funding. The problem is the article made no sense, so we have done our own research.

Until late last week, as you may recall, the feds had said they were not going to fund this LRT.

Here is MinnPost:

“Under the (Congressional budget) compromise, which funds the government through the end of the fiscal year, SWLRT will receive $10 million from the Federal Transit Administration. This makes official the full-funding grant agreement between federal and Minnesota authorities, locking in over $900 million in federal support for the project over the course of a decade.

The Met Council was planning to issue a statement later in the day, but agency spokesman John Schadl quipped: “It’s a good morning here at the Met Council.” In an email, Met Council chair Adam Duininck confirmed the funding news.

Not so fast: here is what I have been able to find out.

As MinnPost said, the “deal” has not received final approval from Congress but from what we understand, probably will this week. But keep in mind, the deal is only $10 million, not the full grant of over $900 million.

If you look to page 32-33 of this report on transportation attached to the 1600 plus page  Congressional Budget report, you will find a $10 million grant for SWLRT as a “New FFGA” or full funding agreement. That is not the same as a “signed FFGA.”

SWLRT Funding

Our best guess is that the $10 million is what the Met Council needs to finish engineering before applying for an FFGA. We have a call in to the DOT/FTA to find out.

But do not forget that SWLRT still has to finalize co-location agreements with several rail roads, and there is still a federal lawsuit to be resolved (plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment last week) .

We talked to someone well-placed in Washington, D.C. today: she thinks this is 1. Minnesota Senators Klobuchar and Franken, as well as the other Congressional Democrats from Minnesota, working on behalf of the DFL, and 2. Bureaucratic Inertia that favors old projects at DOT.

Congressman Jason Lewis (Second-R), who sits on transportation wrote a letter to the Secretary of Transportation making his opposition to SWLRT very clear but that is one Congressman working against a project that has been in play for years.

So as we have warned, the Met Council (all appointed by Dayton) is more powerful than the Legislative majority in Minnesota, not to mention all five suburban counties who have been demanding that its governance structure be reformed.

This $10 million is sure to stay in the budget appropriation when Congress votes this week but take heart, this is not yet a done deal. Until the Met Council reaches agreement with several railroads, and FTA says this project is a go, the project will not get full funding.

Stay tuned.