Twin Cities Light Rail Projects May Be Dead

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has released its Annual Report on Funding Recommendations for the Fiscal Year 2019. The report describes the capital investment grants (CIG) program that states can apply to for federal matching funds.

The FTA is not recommending funding for any projects in Minnesota. The projects that have applied for federal funds are Southwest LRT, Bottineau LRT, the Metro Orange Line bus rapid transit along 35W, and the Metro Gold Line bus rapid transit in St. Paul.

The FTA is limiting funding to “projects with existing full funding grant agreements. For the remaining projects in the CIG program, FTA is not requesting or recommending funding. Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.”

The Center’s interpretation of the report is that even if the projects in Minnesota were ready to apply for full funding (for example, when Southwest LRT obtains and accepts civil bids for construction) the administration is not interested in funding any of the projects. Here is the report: “The administration has developed a comprehensive infrastructure proposal that accelerates projects, spurs private sector innovation, and improves how the Federal government delivers infrastructure projects. Transit projects will be eligible to compete for federal financial support in this proposal. However, none of the projects listed in the tables below (2A, 2B, 2C) are recommended for funding from the CIG program.”

All of the Minnesota projects are listed in the tables 2A, 2B, and 2C. The projects, therefore, are not eligible for federal infrastructure funding, at least at this time.

This is a major blow to Governor Dayton’s transit plan for the Twin Cities. The Met Council, under his leadership, developed a long-term transportation and housing plan that was entirely based on light rail expansion into the suburbs, with subsidized housing along the LRT to drive ridership and transform the metro area under a vision called “Thrive MSP 2040.”

The plan has been rejected by the five suburban counties in the metro area. The Legislature in 2017 withdrew its support from Southwest LRT and placed the Met Council under a quarterly audit by the Office of Legislative Auditor.

You can read the FTA report here.