Those of us who live in the White Bear Lake area enjoy an exceptional quality of life, excellent parks, great schools, fantastic shopping, numerous employers and more.
I’ve been blessed to live in the City of White Bear Lake for 46 years. Over the past four decades, our city has grown, changed, and evolved while maintaining the character that makes it special and unique. I passionately believe that the Purple Line (formerly Rush Line) bus rapid transit project fits into that history of progress that aligns with our values.
With all the wonderful qualities our part of the Twin Cities has, we continue to lack high-quality, frequent transit. Quality transit is something employees and employers, residents, students and retirees in the Twin Cities and across the country are demanding as they look at where they want to live, work and grow their businesses. For our part of the Twin Cities to stay competitive, we need transportation solutions that will keep us connected to the entire region.
During the past few months, the discourse regarding the Purple Line here in White Bear Lake has started to sound like the hyper-partisan fights we see in Washington, D.C. This does not reflect our community values and we can do better. Of course we all hold differing opinions about how we’d like our city and region to grow – or not. As we continue this conversation, let’s first talk about its goals and merits based on the facts.
Is the project being hurried? No. Planning work on the Rush Line corridor began more than 20 years ago. As the years and years of coverage here in the White Bear Press attests, there have been countless opportunities for public participation, input and discussion. The Pre-Project Development study (performed 2014-2017) examined 55 route segments and several types of transit through an extensive public engagement and technical evaluation process in order to determine which route and type of transit would best meet the project’s overall purpose and need. Over the past three years during the Environmental Analysis Phase, the Purple Line project has received thousands of comments, and connected with more than 3,400 people. Feedback from the public has influenced key project decisions, such as route, transit type and station locations. The idea that this project has been shrouded in secrecy is simply not true.
Will the project destroy the Bruce Vento Regional Trail? No. For starters, one of the Purple Line’s many advocates is Susan Vento, widow of Bruce Vento and a frequent trail user. She knows, as does anyone who has examined the plan, that Purple Line buses will run in their own dedicated lanes on a 6-mile segment through portions of Saint Paul and Maplewood alongside an updated and upgraded Bruce Vento Regional Trail. Ramsey County acquired this former railroad right-of-way in the 1990s for the purpose of future transit use, and signs stating just that have been posted along the trail since 1998. There is enough room to fit the Bruce Vento Regional Trail, the Purple Line, and other elements such as native vegetation. Additionally, Ramsey County is working to extend the Bruce Vento Regional Trail to White Bear Lake.
Will diesel buses cause air or noise pollution? No. Electric, battery-powered buses – not diesel – are planned for use on the Purple Line from day one of operation. In addition, Metro Transit – who will operate the Purple Line as part of the regional METRO system – plans to transition the rest of its fleet to being electric in the years ahead.
Combating climate change is critical today and into the future. Electric buses produce no tailpipe emissions and provide a quieter ride both inside and outside the vehicle than most non-electric cars and trucks. High-quality transit options are an important tool to combat climate change and electric buses will make this line even more effective.
Will the buses cause congestion on Hwy. 61? No. I’m very familiar with traffic congestion in White Bear Lake. Purple Line’s buses will run every 10 or 15 minutes – adding one bus at that frequency to the significant number of vehicles already traveling on Hwy. 61 will have little impact. In fact, it is an increase of only 0.04% to the total vehicles on the road today. Additionally, having commuters and others on a bus, rather than in their own cars, relieves congestion and reduces the demand for parking. Furthermore, transit buses are operated by trained, licensed professional drivers who know how to navigate all traffic conditions safely and efficiently.
Will ridership changes be considered? Yes. The Purple Line project will go through a rigorous assessment before it applies for federal funding. This will include an updated analysis of ridership figures, including an examination of how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted transit use and travel generally. In addition to ridership, the Federal Transit Administration looks at the project’s cost-effectiveness, environmental benefits, congestion relief, land use and economic development. The process for meeting these standards is thorough, as competition with planned transit projects across the nation is very high. The Purple Line will only secure federal funds if it can prove it is a worthy project after continuing studies and analysis.
Will buses bring crime? No. Research shows that the presence of a transit station does not increase crime. In our region, police ride on buses and patrol transit routes and stations. Drivers serve as eyes and ears on their routes with the ability to instantly radio trouble developing inside or outside buses to dispatch law enforcement if needed. Buses and stations alike are equipped with cameras, lighting, alarms and other safety and security features.
Those of us who have worked on this project for many years welcome feedback. But let’s be sure that we’re all working from actual, documented facts. If you have questions, ask them, rather than just accepting the half-truths and falsehoods often spread through social media.
Ultimately, I believe that once the Purple Line meets the rigorous Federal Transit Administration requirements and is operational, it will be an important part of bringing White Bear Lake and our region closer together, strengthening our community for years to come. Your continued input is welcome as we work to make the Purple Line a successful transportation option for our region.
Victoria Reinhardt is Ramsey County Commissioner