DBB allows for more public sector control over the design process.
The Green Line was the region’s second rail transit line, connecting the Blue Line in downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota and downtown St. Paul by adding 11 miles of new track. In 2008, the Met Council approved the project and the project’s final EIS, FTA approved the project’s final design in May 2010, and construction began in December 2010. Revenue service began in June 2014.404
The region made several changes to its project delivery approach with the Green Line. First, it relied more heavily on county funding, with the counties contributing nearly 40 percent of the project costs. Increased funding from local sources allowed the project to proceed without securing as much political support from the state legislature as was necessary for the Blue Line.
Metro Transit and the counties decided to use a DBB procurement method, despite the timeline and budget success it had using DB on the Blue Line. This decision was mostly because the project sponsors wanted to retain more control over the design of the project and its stations.
Metro Transit also decided to dedicate multiple staff to community engagement, particularly given the line runs through several immigrant communities. These staff worked with residents and business owners and often spoke the languages that were common among nearby residents. Metro Transit surveyed the community, conducted focus groups with key constituencies, and posted online maps where people could call out specific complaints or suggestions and pin them to the map. When soliciting feedback, staff made it a priority to respond to every comment they received.
This thorough community engagement led to many changes and additions to the project scope, with many interviewees characterizing the betterment process on the Green Line as having “blossomed,” “intense,” and, in some cases, “out of control.” The project ultimately became more than just a light rail project, but an opportunity to redo the entire streetscape and underground utilities across the project’s alignment. The University of Minnesota also had several demands, including the inclusion of “floating slab” track sections to mitigate vibrations and noise. These requests resulted in additional costs, which were absorbed by the project.
Despite the increased costs, community engagement did result in enhancements that greatly improved the project. For example, the outreach teams learned that the proposed stations in the heavily minority and immigrant communities along the line were too far apart. Planners changed the design and added new stops to serve these communities, elevating their voices and allowing them to communicate with Metro Transit. These modifications and design decisions made the Green Line project 18 percent more expensive on a per mile basis than the Blue Line, even though the Blue Line involved tunneling.
The designers also made several decisions that positively affected the project timelines and costs, including the retrofit of the existing Washington Avenue Bridge across the Mississippi river to accommodate light rail tracks instead of constructing a new bridge, which saved at least $75 million and 2 years of construction. They also ran underground utilities, like water lines, on both sides of the tracks so future utility work would not affect rail service. Learning from the challenges with the Blue Line, utility companies negotiated from a stronger position up front and received some reimbursement for relocation. One interviewee noted that utility upgrades and relocation often remain the responsibility of private companies or utilities, but it is often easier for the project team to assume this responsibility to save time, and thus money.405
The region is currently extending the Green Line 14.5 miles southwest of downtown Minneapolis as part of the Southwest LRT Extension project. The approximately $2 billion project is being delivered using a DBB procurement. While Metro Transit is still utilizing a DBB procurement, any betterment proposal is paid for by the requesting entity, which is either a locality, utility, or MnDOT.