Of course we can turn back on SWLRT

The Southwest Light Rail Transit (SWLRT) project has been a disaster. As my colleague Tom Steward noted recently, construction:

…now stands nine years behind schedule, pushed back from 2018 to 2027. At the same time, the cost of the biggest public works project in state history has doubled to $2.74 billion and counting. In fact the boondoggle is so far over budget that it’s more than half a billion dollars short of funding to finish it. No one knows where the last $534 million will come from, or at least, they’re not saying.

The project, originally budgeted for $2 billion, now needs another $534 million to be completed.

Making the case that we should throw this good money after bad, Jim Hovland, mayor of Edina and chair of the Transportation Advisory board to the Metropolitan Council, wrote in the Star Tribune recently: ‘Stop the blaming: There’s no turning back on SWLRT.’

“[H]ere we are,” he writes,

…three years into construction of the line, with more than $1.6 billion expended to date on the project, which is over 60% complete, and the naysayers and financial critics have resurfaced due to a projected delay and cost overrun on the largest public works project in Minnesota history.

This sounds like a Scooby Doo script: I’d have gotten away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky naysayers and financial critics!

“[L]et’s forget the finger-pointing and scapegoating of the Met Council,” Mr. Hovland – who has “been serving on the Corridor Management Committee since the Southwest light rail project (SWLRT) began to be discussed” – pleads, concluding:

The plain fact is, there is no going back and unwinding what has been done. The Green Line extension needs to be completed. Closing down the project would mean a billion-dollar payment obligation to the federal government plus hundreds of millions expended in restorative efforts all along the line.

Actually, the plain fact is that we don’t need to go back, we just have to stop, acknowledge the project as the mismanaged catastrophe it is, and not succumb to the ‘sunk cost fallacy.’ This is where people make decisions based on costs they have incurred in the past — sunk costs — rather than the benefits of in the future. It is time to cut our losses.

The remains of the SWLRT could be turned into a nature walk, as has been done with abandoned rail lines in London. Or it could be left standing as a monument to wasteful government spending and dreadful project management.