Met Council runs into a wall again on SW light rail boondoggle

Here they go again. Just when you think the Met Council can’t dig itself a deeper hole on the construction of the Southwest Light Rail Transit Line, the agency inevitably finds a way. New concerns over the viability and impact of a controversial tunnel on adjacent condominiums in south Minneapolis have come up with the discovery of an underground barrier the experts missed until now.

A terse update from the Met Council puts it this way:

Secant wall construction is currently paused in order to investigate an impediment encountered during construction. Expect excavation activities that may produce some noticeable noise and vibration similar to secant wall construction activities.

At this point engineers acknowledged to the Star Tribune that they’re stumped and have no idea how much more the obstacle could add to the already exorbitant cost overruns and delays in the $2.7 billion project.

Already the most expensive public works project in state history, Southwest is more than $1 billion over budget and delayed nearly a decade, partly because of the difficulties associated with building the half-mile long tunnel.

“We did encounter an impediment that we’re trying to investigate,” said Southwest’s project director, Jim Alexander, at an advisory committee meeting earlier this month. “We’re not quite clear what it is yet. This could be another delay that we have to experience.”

The development only heightens the stakes for property owners in the two condominiums whose foundations abut the problematic tunnel’s wall. For them, it’s deja vu all over again.

The news has been “stressful and frustrating” for residents of the condominiums, who have long warned the Met Council that construction taking place within feet of their homes could be problematic, said Vanne Owens Hayes, president of the Cedar Isles Condominium Association.

Cracks have already surfaced in ceilings and floors, and the condos’ underground parking garage flooded last year after a water main break during light-rail construction. That’s on top of the usual noise and inconvenience associated with a large construction project.

“It’s not only frustrating living through it, we’re also paying for it as taxpayers,” Owens Hayes said.

But not to worry. The Met Council’s weekly update assures condo residents equipment installed to prevent another episode of flooding in their parking garage will be up and running as usual.

Pumps and generators will run overnight periodically in various parts of the construction corridor, especially at the Kenilworth LRT tunnel site. Pumps are used to manage water, and generators are used to power the pumps as well as to power equipment that keeps pipes or other elements warm during freezing temperatures.

The winter conditions only make it that much more challenging to get to the bottom of the latest, but undoubtedly not the last, unanticipated obstacle in the way of what’s now viewed by many Minnesotans as a boondoggle. Exactly what’s gone wrong and how much it’s gouged taxpayers will be detailed in a widely anticipated investigation by the legislative auditor expected to be released later this month.

“The whole episode is just so emblematic of the entire project, where engineering assurances have proven to be worthless, and potential problems dismissed or discounted, leading to enormous delays and cost hikes,” said Russ Palma, vice president of the Cedar Isles condo association.