One of the issues in the Twin Cities is whether to build the Southwest light-rail line from Minneapolis to the wealthy suburb of Eden Prairie. As is typical of successive light-rail projects, the Southwest line is expected to cost twice as much as the region’s previous line, which cost twice as much as the one before that. In the case of the Southwest line, that means a current projected cost of $1.858 billion, which is up from the previous estimate of $1.25 billion for what was going to be a longer line (15.8 miles vs. 14.5 miles) just five years ago.
When the projected cost had reached $1.77 billion, the plan called for the state of Minnesota to contribute $160 million. But, fed up with cost overruns, the state legislature backed out, leaving a large hole in the project’s budget. The feds had promised to pay for half provided the state and local governments secured the other half. To keep the feds from also backing out, the transit agency had to find a spare $160 million.
In the Twin Cities, the transit agency is also the metropolitan planning organization whose purpose is to distribute transportation funds to various transit projects and local road agencies, which creates a suspicious conflict of interest. The Metropolitan Council has unsurprisingly decided that transit is the best way to relieve congestion even though light rail actually makes congestion worse. However, most of the federal and state gas taxes it receives can’t be spent on transit, so it can’t simply use them to fill in the $160 million gap in the Southwest route’s budget.