WHITE BEAR LAKE — The city wants the U.S. transportation department to know it's committed to the Rush Line project.

In a letter to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Mayor Jo Emerson supported a Ramsey County request for Rush Line funding to begin an advanced station planning process.

The mayor sent the letter on behalf of the city to “support the FTA pilot program for a Transit-Oriented Development Planning grant application.” The transit administration is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation in Washington, D.C.

Ramsey County is seeking $1,250,000 in funding from FTA to support station area planning along the Rush Line bus rapid transit corridor, which stretches 14 miles from St. Paul to White Bear Lake.

If successful, “small area plans” would be prepared within one-half mile of stations along the corridor, including Buerkle Road, County Road E, Cedar Avenue, the Marina Triangle and downtown White Bear Lake.

The city of White Bear Lake “commits to working with the Metropolitan Council, Metro Transit, Ramsey County and other municipalities along the bus rapid transit corridor on the Rush Line Advanced Station Area Plans,” Emerson wrote in last week's letter.

Staff was prepared to ask City Council Nov. 12 for approval of an in-kind $25,000 contribution toward the planning process but withdrew the resolution. The amount was equal to staff time over the 18-month planning process.

The county was requesting that corridor communities provide in-kind contributions through dedication of staff time, but informed City Manager Ellen Hiniker earlier in the day that the county would fund the entire $312,500 match.

Transit-oriented planners will examine ways to enhance economic development and ridership, foster multimodal connectivity and accessibility, improve transit access for pedestrian and bicycle traffic and identify infrastructure needs in and around the station areas.

In a memo included in the council packet, Community Development Director Anne Kane said it's important for the city to remain engaged in the station planning process moving forward, “to ensure the city's desired vision, scale and types of development are reflected in the final plan along the corridor within White Bear Lake.”

Hiniker said the mayor's letter supporting the grant emphasizes the importance of comprehensive station area planning. “We will certainly continue to participate in the planning process, but do not want to be held to a time-contribution expectation,” she said.

The City Council will yet have opportunity to vote on the entire project.

“At this time, Ramsey County has indicated it will be spring of 2021, after completion of the Environmental Assessment Phase,” Hiniker said. “Originally, the county was going to pass it on to the Metropolitan Council after 15% engineering but is going to step it through 25% engineering so it can remain more closely engaged in the planning process. The FTA grant funds will enhance this phase, if the county is successful in getting the grant.” 

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