MN: Evaluation of the Rush line as a “ milestone ” for the Eastern Metro public transport project

Supporters of the Rush Line Bus Rapid Transit Project say it will transform uneven transit service in the Eastern Metro, especially for growing numbers of people living in poverty and those living in poverty. without a car.

But a group of aspiring skeptics are questioning whether it is wise to go ahead with the project, which would link Union Depot in St. Paul to White Bear Lake, as people continue to work from home in the post-COVID-19 economy.

And others worry that the frequent bus service – every 10 to 15 minutes during rush hour – will compromise the small-town feel of downtown White Bear Lake.

The public will now have the opportunity to comment on the project until June 25, after Ramsey County released its comprehensive environmental assessment of the Rush Line project last week.

Transit planners have called the assessment a “major milestone” that positions the project, which is expected to cost between $ 457 million and $ 475 million, to receive nearly half of its funding from the Federal Transit Administration. The rest of the tab would be covered by Ramsey County, largely through an existing transit tax.

County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt said the Rush Line will serve as a lifeline for residents and workers of downtown Saint-Paul, East Side, Maplewood, Vadnais Heights, Gem Lake and White Bear Lake – much of the district it represents.

“I hope people will have an open mind, whether they support it or oppose it,” she said. “But I hope their opinions will be based on the facts in the documents.”

Three years into the works, the Rush Line assessment serves as the economic, historical and environmental blueprint for the 15-mile project. It includes the contribution of some 3,400 community members gathered through virtual events, open houses and contextual meetings.

“I hope it incorporates all the comments and reactions from the public,” said Andy Gitzlaff, senior transportation planner for Ramsey County. “It covers a lot, [but] we always want to hear from as many different people as possible in the community. “

The Rush Line would operate on a dedicated guideway for about 70% of its route, which has 21 stations. Stops would be near Hmong Village and Phalen Regional Park on the east side, Maplewood Mall, and 50 medical clinics and hospitals. Buses would run alongside the Bruce Vento Regional Trail for cyclists and pedestrians, on property owned by Ramsey County.

With service scheduled to begin in 2026, transit planners predict that up to 7,400 passengers will use the line daily by 2040. The environmentally friendly electric bus ride from Union Depot to White Bear Lake is expected to take 47 minutes and 44 minutes. go west.

The Rush Line planning process has generally avoided the high-profile controversy that hampered the Southwest Light Rail line, or the kind of difficulties that plagued the Bottineau Blue Line extension.

A row broke out three years ago over the original location of the project’s northernmost station in downtown White Bear Lake.

More than 4,500 people have signed a petition saying the shutdown will “destroy the charm and small town atmosphere” of the city center, while increasing traffic and congestion in the area. The proposed station was subsequently moved to a new site at 7th Street and Washington Avenue. Yet many of the same concerns are still brewing.

“It’s something that is done for us, not for us,” said Greg Lees, a native of the area and a 20-year-old resident. “A lot of people love the quaint atmosphere of White Bear Lake, and it could be destroyed” thanks to the high-frequency bus service.

“The people who live in this city are finally starting to wake up,” he added.

Another White Bear Lake resident, Tim David, said commuter buses already in service are not widely used. “This is not a good use of public money,” he said.

Cindie Bloom, a resident of White Bear Lake for 35 years, observed that the pandemic had changed the way people worked and went to the office, possibly forever.

“Until we know what’s going on with the ridership, we should at least pause,” she said, noting that the Northstar Commuter Rail serving the northern suburbs has seen the ridership drop by 96% since the outbreak of the pandemic. “We need to reassess to see what makes the most sense.”

The environmental assessment notes that people still depend on public transit despite the epidemic. About 54% of Rush Line passengers are expected to use the service to get to work, while the rest are said to take the bus to school, medical appointments, groceries and other places.

“In fact,” the assessment notes, “the pandemic has underscored the importance of transit in providing essential workers with the means to get to work and provide essential services.”

Planners will continue to monitor travel trends as the pandemic gradually wears off.

Janet Moore • 612 673-7752

@ByJanetMoore

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