Rush Line route to be finalized this spring


Final route decisions will be made this spring for the Rush Line transit corridor between downtown St. Paul and downtown White Bear Lake. There are four route options for downtown St. Paul and Rush Line project planners are deciding if they should make a deal with BNSF Railway company to use their railroad right-of-way north of Interstate 694.

Multiple options for bus rapid transit route on the table

The Rush Line project is chugging along as final route decisions will be made this spring. 

The Rush Line’s Policy Advisory Committee voted in January to run part of the proposed bus rapid transit route in a dedicated lane along the Bruce Vento Regional Trail. In March the committee will vote to establish the route north of Interstate 694 and the downtown St. Paul route. By May the final route decision will be made.

With these decisions made this spring, the Rush Line project will be finishing the second tier of its transit study phase, which has involved studying potential ridership, vehicle type (which will be bus rapid transit) and costs of construction. This phase also included community involvement, where residents were able to share what they wanted for new mass transit.

At this point the route that has already been voted on will run along the Bruce Vento recreational trail, which is in the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority’s right-of-way. This is an area between the Phalen Village commercial district and Interstate 694. A dedicated bus rapid transit lane will be built, meaning buses will not be mixed with normal vehicle traffic. The bike trail will remain. 

Andy Gitzlaff, senior transportation planner for the Ramsey County Regional Railroad Authority, said the route north of Interstate 694 to downtown White Bear Lake is still up in the air. 

He said planners are trying to decide whether to negotiate a deal with the BNSF Railway company to use its railroad right-of-way to build a dedicated bus lane, which runs roughly along U.S. Highway 61, or to run the buses with traffic on the busy highway.

For downtown options, the committee is down to four route options; one option would run along East Seventh Street into downtown. The other three run along Phalen Boulevard, but then split off in various directions through the Mount Airy neighborhood behind the state Capitol. One potential route would run along University Avenue behind the Capitol building, and another would run through the Railroad Island neighborhood.

On March 23 the Policy Advisory Committee will vote on a downtown route and a route north of Interstate 694 to White Bear Lake. 

In April the Rush Line project will host community meetings and a public hearing, which are yet to be determined, for residents to give their feedback on the various options. 

 “We need to have all the communities come on board on the recommended routes,” said Gitzlaff.

In May the Policy Advisory Committee will vote to finalize the route based on the community input. 

Gitzlaff said the next step will be an environmental study of the proposed route, which may take up to two years to complete. He said ultimately it could be about eight years before the Rush Line is up and running.

 

What the community supports

In January, the Payne Phalen District 5 Planning Council voted to support downtown route option 1, which has the bus rapid transit running along Phalen Boulevard, into the Mount Airy neighborhood into downtown to the Union Depot. 

Eric Foster, Payne Phalen District 5 Planning Council president, explained at a recent Railroad Island Task Force meeting that the board decided to support that option because of the lower price tag. 

He explained that the project has relatively high costs in comparison to estimated ridership numbers. Running the bus rapid transit along Phalen Boulevard would be a more affordable option because a dedicated lane wouldn’t need to be constructed, and it avoids the high traffic along East Seventh Street.

Dayton’s Bluff Community Council executive director Deanna Abbott-Foster said the district council has not voted to support a specific downtown route option. When the route had been mapped out to run through Swede Hollow Park, the council took a position of opposing that option. Now that the Swede Hollow option has been taken off the table, Foster said the district council members haven’t explicitly supported any other option. 

Both community council leaders said it is difficult to choose a route option to support because of the considerations to keep in mind to ensure the project recieves federal funding. 

 “We took a broader view,” said Foster, explaining their approach is to make transit work for the people who use it. 

The Dayton’s Bluff Community Council has been working with Metro Transit on its “Better Bus Stops” program, which aims to build bus stops with heating, better lighting, and up-to-date digital bus schedules. 

They are also hosting a “Bring Transit to the People,” community discussion on Feb. 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Dayton’s Bluff Recreation Center, for transit users to share how transit could better serve them. 

She said the one thing they would like is an agreement with the Rush Line project planners that connecting bus routes will be created to conveniently get riders to the rapid transit Rush Line.

 “We want to create meaningful transit on the East Side,” Foster said.

 

Marjorie Otto can be reached at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com. Follow her on Twitter at @EastSideM_Otto.

 

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