WHITE BEAR LAKE — After going back to the drawing board, a Rush Line team looking for the best place for a downtown bus station have narrowed the possibilities to six.
Residents got a gander at those half-dozen station locations during a crowded open house Jan. 10 at City Hall. Ramsey County transit staff were on hand to answer questions at the display boards around the room. People were asked to pick their top two favorites among the six before leaving.
Locations under consideration (See map):
A. 7th Street and Washington Avenue (behind Beartown Bar & Grill)
This station is farthest from the core of downtown and would require a safer pedestrian crossing at the 7th Street/Highway 61 intersection. Northbound and southbound passengers would use the same platform.
B. 4th Street and Division Avenue (city-owned parking lot east of Signature Orthodontics) — 4th Street or 7th Street routing
Division Avenue would be extended from 4th Street (next to White Bear Bar) to 5th. The bus would return via Bloom Avenue back to 4th and south on Highway 61 under one option; or continue north to 7th, turn right and connect with 61 southbound.
C. 4th Street and Highway 61 - in-line platform (next to Railroad Park)
This option would require the highway to shift 15 feet into Railroad Park. A driver facility would be located at 7th and Washington Avenue (behind Beartown). This would serve as a bus layover and turn-around spot. Customers would not board there. A southbound platform would be across 61.
D. 2nd Street and Clark Avenue (US Bank)
This option is closest to the downtown core. Many residents are opposed to this location, saying it will ruin the historic character of the neighborhood. A parking ramp on site is no longer part of the plan.
E. Banning and Highway 61 (north of CVS)
Bus operations are difficult. The turn on to 7th at Banning has safety issues.
F. Arrive at 4th Street and Highway 61; depart from 7th Street and Washington Avenue (behind Bear Town)
The southbound station is farthest from downtown destinations and a quarter mile from the northbound platform, which may be confusing. This option avoids impacts to Railroad Park presented in C.
Asked her favorite, Mayor Jo Emerson named E, which has a platform north of CVS. "It is close enough to downtown so people can walk and it only has one platform. It has the least impact," she said.
County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt prefers F, at this point. "It avoids congestion on Fourth Street."
The commissioner, who lives in White Bear Lake, noted that her preference is personal opinion. "I will listen to what people say before making a decision and follow the guidance of the city.” Added Reinhardt, "It's pretty incredible what this (bus service) is going to open up for people."
The bus rapid transit will connect the northeast metro to the regional transit system. It's anticipated that the buses will serve more than 97,000 people and connect to more than 106,000 jobs within a 10-minute walk of the 21 planned stations between Union Depot and White Bear Lake.
Buses will run seven days a week from early in the morning to late at night.
Does the project team have a favorite? "right now, no," replied Beth Bartz, a consultant on the transit planning team. "Some of these have challenges. This is where we need community input."
Bartz added that the downtown needs a station.
"The reason downtown White Bear Lake is attractive or makes sense from a transit standpoint is you want to put transit where people live and in places people want to go. Downtown White Bear Lake has the density for both things," she maintained.
Asked if the Clark Avenue station was no longer a contender, Bartz said the only way things go away totally is if the Policy Advisory Committee takes action. "They are directing the project," she said.
An older couple who live two blocks from downtown had differing opinions. Jim Chelberg likes a central location that's accessible, like B and C; he's neutral on D. His wife Meredith on the other hand, said her choice would be a stop going north on 61 that continues to Hugo for water and restroom breaks. "They don't need a turnaround if they're going to Hugo. There is land there," she stated.
Attorney Dick Galena has an office just north of 7th Street. He doesn't like any of the options, but put A on his comment sheet. "But I still don't like it. If we are forced to choose, that is the best one,” he said.
"Buses should be kept away from the east side of Highway 61. The end platform should be on the west side of 61 or moved further north, like Hugo. I'm not sure people realize these end platforms are 130 feet long. They must accommodate two buses."
Jay Rendall doesn't want buses driving downtown, period. "Stay on 61 or go north and turn around. The project team should be more forward thinking; more big picture. Get it out of downtown," he said. If he had to choose, Rendall preferred C, with the turnaround at Beartown.
County Senior Transportation Planner Andy Gitzlaff said staff is in the process of compiling and reviewing the public input received to date on the station options.
“The next steps include receiving input from the White Bear Lake City Council on the preferred downtown station location,” he said. “We are currently discussing the timeline for this input with the city. The Rush Line Policy Advisory Committee will receive an update on the White Bear Lake station at its next meeting scheduled for Jan. 31. It is unclear whether we would ask them to make a decision on the preferred station location to be studied in the environmental assessment at that meeting or at a subsequent meeting.
White Bear stations are also planned at Whitaker Street, Cedar Avenue, County Road E and Buerkle Road.
The project is at least five years from breaking ground. Buses would likely start running in 2026.