March 15, 2023
Contact: Jonathan Young
IUOE Local 49 Communications Director
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jason George, business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49, today released the following statement in response to the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s report on the Southwest Light Rail Transit construction:
There are obviously serious problems with the Southwest Light Rail project, and no one can or should deny it. We must have detailed discussions about how the project was designed and funded. Route selection was too heavily influenced by politicians placating wealthy constituents, instead of relying on sound engineering.
But the contractors and workers building the line have nothing to do with the issues that have arisen. They didn’t create the funding package. They didn’t choose the route.
The contractors involved in construction of the Southwest Light Rail have built infrastructure in this region for decades and are among the most experienced companies in the nation. Our union represents hundreds of skilled tradesmen and women who have worked on this project, and they are among the best-trained, most-skilled equipment operators in the business. There is no one better to do this work. They are simply following the plan laid out by the Metropolitan Council and the engineers, a plan that was overly influenced by politics.
The Met Council acknowledged that it was to blame for project delays, according to the report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor. “The civil construction contractor claimed that construction delays were primarily the responsibility of the Metropolitan Council; the Council eventually agreed,” the report says.
The Southwest Light Rail’s problems should be worked out and cleaned up before any other light rail project moves forward. There are also significant public safety issues with existing light rail that desperately need to be addressed. But those elected officials, bureaucrats or others falsely scapegoating contractors and workers are out of line and completely off base.
I would add that stopping the project when it is nearly complete is about the worst idea we could come up with. It would compound the mistakes and be the worst possible outcome for taxpayers, who would have spent hundreds of millions of dollars and received nothing in return. We need to finish this project. And then we must reform the process for funding future light rail projects and take a serious look at public safety and the way fares are collected for current operations. Anyone advocating anything else is playing politics with this issue.
The International Union of Operating Engineers Local 49 represents more than 14,000 heavy equipment operators, mechanics and stationary engineers across Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Learn more at local49.org.