ST. PAUL - A federal agency has given a key approval to the Southwest Light Rail Transit project, clearing the way for the start of construction on the 14.5-mile, $2 billion link between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie.

The Metropolitan Council said the Federal Transit Administration gave the approval on Wednesday. The action means the Met Council can move forward with awarding a construction contract for the project, the largest public infrastructure investment in state history.

The project’s 16 stations will serve Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, nearby Edina, Hopkins, Minnetonka and Eden Prairie.

Another FTA approval expected next year will mean the federal government will pay $929 million, or nearly half, of the project’s total cost.

Early construction activities this winter could include staffing and equipment mobilization, site clearance, demolition and utility work. Heavy construction would occur in 2019-2022, with 7,500 construction jobs expected to be created with an estimated $350 million payroll. SWLRT is expected to begin passenger service in 2023 as an extension of Metro Transit’s Green Line between downtown St. Paul and downtown Minneapolis.