MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- The Federal Transit Administration has agreed to help pay for the Hiawatha Avenue light-rail project here.
The only obstacle to construction of the state's first light-rail line is a 60-day congressional review.
On Wednesday, the FTA sent Minnesota's application for a full funding grant agreement committing $334 million to the $625 million project to Congress.
With no known opposition there, the agreement is expected to be final at the end of the 60 days, said Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, D-Minn., who has championed the line that would link downtown Minneapolis, the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport and the Mall of America in Bloomington.
"This is the big hurdle, and this clearly puts it on a time frame to meet the Jan. 31 deadline in Minnesota," Sabo said Wednesday in Washington.
The Minnesota Legislature has specified that $100 million in state funding for the project will be rescinded if the federal agreement is not secured by that date.
Contracts to build the line and the rail cars have been signed contingent upon receipt of the federal funds. The contracts will go into force, and the construction phase will begin, as soon as the congressional review ends.
State Rep. Phil Krinkie, a Shoreview Republican who has been the leading critic of the Hiawatha project, said he wished Minnesota residents had had the chance to vote on the project.
"It's unfortunate that Minnesota doesn't allow or doesn't permit these types of initiatives to go on the ballot," he said. "As you may have read, down in the Austin, Texas, area residents just on Nov. 7 voted down a light-rail proposal. People here in the Twin Cities never had that opportunity."
In addition to the federal and state funding, the Hiawatha project's overall budget includes money from Hennepin County and the Metropolitan Airports Commission.
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