MAPLEWOOD — There are two new traffic lights proposed in White Bear Lake to accommodate the future Rush Line bus line.
One would be located at Highway 61 and Whitaker Street and one would be located at Highway 61 and Eighth Street, according to the 15%-stage draft engineering plans approved by the Rush Line Policy Advisory Committee at a July 25 meeting at the Maplewood Community Center.
Both locations are planned bus stops for the BRT (bus rapid transit) line from downtown St. Paul through the Bruce Vento Regional Trail in Maplewood to the Maplewood Mall and then up to downtown White Bear Lake. The bus line would cut over at Buerkle Road in Vadnais Heights and follow bus-only lanes proposed on Highway 61 up to the final stop on Washington Avenue, between Seventh and Eighth Streets in White Bear Lake. The route is 14 miles long; a bus would arrive at each stop every 10 minutes during rush hour, and every 15 to 30 minutes during non-peak hours. Buses would run from 5 a.m. to midnight.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation is currently reviewing the proposed bus-only lanes on Highway 61. The bus-only lanes would also allow regular drivers to access businesses.
“This is new but increasingly common,” said Jim Gersema, SRF consultant engineer. Adding bus-only lanes to the section of Highway 61 would cause a 30-second time improvement for all traffic on the road, he noted.
At the County Road E stop, there are platforms proposed on either side of the highway next to the bus lanes. It is proposed that 70 parking stalls be added at the Vadnais Heights Sports Center for a park and ride. There is also a stop with platforms proposed at Cedar Avenue.
At Whitaker Street, a new three-way traffic light is proposed at Highway 61 to accommodate the stop and platforms. “This is the best option for the pedestrian safety element to cross to BRT platforms,” Gersema said. The highway would be reconstructed and shifted to the east, he added, to create more space between the railroad and Highway 61.
A traffic light at Eighth Street is also proposed to allow pedestrians to more easily cross Highway 61 to the platform on Washington Avenue. At that final stop, there would be a driver facility to allow bus drivers to use the restroom.
The policy advisory committee made up of local politicians and stakeholders from the communities along the route unanimously approved the 15% draft plans at the meeting. The project has been under discussion for a decade and is in the environmental phase of review. When it is completed in 2024, project development and final engineering are expected to take four years. Construction is anticipated in 2024 and implementation in 2026.
White Bear residents oppose bus line
Several White Bear Lake residents came to the meeting to oppose the bus line or the downtown White Bear Lake station.
Peter Nielsen, who lives near the proposed station at Seventh and Eighth Streets, said the driver facility and platform doesn't make sense at the location. It would be better to put a final station in Hugo, where there is more room for people to park. “We can't handle it right now in the city of White Bear,” he said.
An Eighth Street resident, Sharon Anthony, said she tallied cars on her street for a week and discovered 1,000 daily. She said the location is not good with the middle and high school so close by; there would be an increase in traffic, especially if the proposed addition at North Campus is made — there would be an increase from 1,200 to 3,400 high schoolers. She also said she doesn't think it's a good idea to have a bus station so close to the youth.
Loretta Wheeler, who lives on County Road E in White Bear Lake, said she doesn't think the bus line is needed at all. She rode the bus to downtown St. Paul from Maplewood Mall for 20 years and it was a quick, 20-minute ride, she said. “I don't see why we have to fix it,” she said.