Purple Line Bus Rapid Transit Project Rejected by White Bear Lake – Twin Cities City Council
Plans for a 15-mile bus rapid transit route connecting downtown St. Paul and White Bear Lake have advanced in recent months.
Not so fast, says White Bear Lake City Council, which in a 3-2 vote Tuesday night passed a resolution that opposes the Purple Line entering the city. He says the city council “expresses its desire, supported by many of its constituents, not to have White Bear Lake part of the BRT route.”
The resolution also notes that unlike a light rail project or a highway change, the consent of affected cities is not required for a BRT project. Nonetheless, Mayor Dan Louismet said ahead of Tuesday’s city council vote that he would send a “clear message” to the metropolitan council.
On Wednesday, Metro Transit spokeswoman Laura Baenen said the Met Council would discuss the city’s position with project partners, including other cities along the planned corridor, Ramsey County and the Federal Transit Administration. The county and the FTA plan to share the cost of the project, which has been estimated at around $475 million, Baenen said.
“I would say the Met Council, the project partners, Ramsey County, have listened to White Bear Lake and are still listening and will continue to listen, but this is resolved,” she said.
In December, the Purple Line project, officially called Rush Line, was transferred from Ramsey County to the Met Council after receiving approval to enter the development phase of the FTA’s New Starts programme. The phase is the third of five steps in a federal process to complete the subway line, which has been set to start passenger service in 2026.
Plans call for the purple line to connect St. Paul, Maplewood, White Bear Township, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake and White Bear Lake. The planned route primarily follows Robert Street and Phalen Boulevard from the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul, the Ramsey County Railroad right-of-way (shared with the Bruce Vento Regional Trail), and US 61 in north of Interstate 694 to White Bear Lake, which would see 89 electric buses a day, arriving at stops every 15 minutes.
THE LINE HAS SUPPORTERS, OPPONENTS
Proponents of the line say it would provide round-trip service to 21 stations along the route, from early morning to late evening, providing access to destinations for jobs, education, care health, shopping and leisure.
In White Bear Lake alone, they say, it will move more travelers along US 61 with fewer vehicles and provide pedestrian improvements including new sidewalks, a key segment of the extension. Bruce Vento Regional Trail and new traffic lights.
Opponents, besides some White Bear Lake City Council members and residents, include a group called the No Rush Line Coalition. Critics of the line say ridership will be far lower than expected, take about twice as long as current driving times and bus lanes will require miles of greenery to be ripped out. They also question the projected price.
Planners expect the line to see about 7,000 weekday riders by 2040, according to a federal environmental assessment released last May. The FTA requires that projected ridership be reassessed before the Met Council submits a final application for federal funding, Baenen said.
WHITE BEAR LAKE RESIDENTS EXPRESS CONCERNS
Baenen said Ramsey County planners made adjustments throughout the hallway after considering public feedback given at nearly 200 events and meetings with more than 3,400 people between 2018 and 2021.
Baenen said that after White Bear Lake residents raised concerns about impacts to downtown, a transit station was moved from Clark Avenue and Second Street to Seventh Street and Washington Avenue “to better serve downtown” and so it was not on the lake side of US 61. Another change was the realignment of US 61 near the Whitaker Street station to facilitate a future regional trail extension Bruce Vento and address existing pedestrian safety issues, she said.
Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt lives in White Bear Lake and has been a big supporter of the project.
“The advantages of this line are pretty obvious,” Reinhardt said Wednesday.
She said that in 2020, the cities of St. Paul, White Bear Lake, Vadnais Heights and Maplewood passed resolutions supporting the preliminary plans for the project. Last year, White Bear Lake adopted a comprehensive plan encompassing the purple line, she said.
“When it comes to this resolution, White Bear Lake City Council has had 23 years of input,” she said. “They took many votes during this period. But I think it’s important that we listen to it, and I’m sure the Metropolitan Council will take it into account and the implications.
‘DESTRUCTION OF OUR SENSE OF DOWNTOWN COMMUNITY’
Council members Steven Engstran, Heidi Hughes and Bill Walsh voted in favor of the resolution. Kevin Edberg and Dan Jones voted against. A mayor does not vote under the city charter, but Louismet had urged council to pass the resolution.
In November, Louismet and Hughes were elected to the council. They were outspoken opponents of the project, with Hughes stating on his website that it would “destroy the atmosphere of our downtown community.”
Walsh and Louismet were the only board members who commented on the resolution on Tuesday. It was first presented on February 22, but after they couldn’t agree on the wording of the resolution, a vote was taken and it returned to the modified, shorter advice.
Walsh said council members received numerous emails from residents for and against the project, then read a few that landed in his inbox. He said one was from a resident who lives downtown and wrote: ‘I think the purple line is needed to lessen the effect of increased traffic as areas in the north of us continue to grow. Adding 89 buses per day will not be a problem on a roadway that already has 34,000 vehicles passing each day.
Walsh said another resident wrote: ‘Send the Met Council a message that they may be able to do this to us, but they won’t do this to us.’