Rush Line Corridor to see renewed focus from Ramsey County

The Rush Line transit corridor is still in its infancy, but Ramsey County is bearing down and focusing on the corridor. A study concluding next summer will decide whether to put the transit line through the East Side up to White Bear Lake, or along I-35E up to Forest Lake. (submitted graphic)
A show of hands at a Payne Phalen District 5 Planning Council meeting showed that many East Side residents are not familiar with the Rush Line corridor, a northeast transit line which as been on the backburner since an preliminary study concluded back in 2009.
But for the next year, East Siders should be hearing a lot more about the corridor, which would run from downtown St. Paul through the East Side and up to either White Bear Lake or Forest Lake.
"This is a major corridor of emphasis moving forward," said Josh Olson, senior transportation planner from the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, at the meeting. The county rail authority is the major planning agency for the corridor.
That preliminary 2009 study looked at possible routes for putting a transit line from downtown St. Paul all the way out to Hinckley, via the East Side -- the study ended up concluding that a shorter route, to either White Bear Lake or Forest Lake, would be more reasonable.
Fast forwarding to 2014, Ramsey County has new funding to look at the corridor in more depth. 
A study began early this year to figure out a preferred route and mode of transit for the corridor. The study and will continue through next summer.
The goal of the study will be to narrow the corridor down to one mode of mass transit and one alignment -- the study will decide between light rail and bus rapid transit, and between a route that goes along I-35E up to Forest Lake, and a route that goes through the East Side via county-owned land.
The route through the East Side would go through Swede Hollow Park, and head northeast briefly along Phalen Boulevard and through the neighborhoods, running up along the southeastern edge of Lake Phalen, and then shoot north following the rough trajectory of Highway 61, eventually landing in White Bear Lake. 
Olson said that the county's right-of-way, which goes through Swede Hollow Park and follows northeast trajectory through the East Side, would be a corridor oriented towards day-long service, whereas the Interstate 35E corridor would be more for commuters. 
Looking at other commuter-oriented transit lines such as the Northstar Commuter Rail, Olson said the Rush Line line would look a lot different. "People want that all-day service," he said.
Al Oertwig, president of the Payne Phalen district council, said that he and other residents were concerned the train could end up having few stops on the East Side, and said residents would like to see the transit line make connections throughout the neighborhood.
A marathon
Olson noted that while there are a number of similar projects underway throughout the metro area -- including the already existing Hiawatha Light Rail line, the Northstar commuter line, and the up-and-coming Southwest Light Rail and Bottineau corridors -- there isn't as much planned for the east metro. The Gateway Corridor planning along Interstate 94 is about a year ahead of the Rush Line planning, as is the west metro's Bottineau lines. The Southwest corridor is well ahead of these, and is going into the engineering phase.
Olson said the process of getting a line built would be "a marathon of sorts," noting that conversations about the Green Line, which just opened June 14, started in the early 1980's. 
Swede Hollow Park
One option for the proposed line could put it right through Swede Hollow Park, to the dismay of some East Siders, who've already begun to raise objections.
Olson said the county has "heard (those objections) loud and clear" but said it wouldn't be prudent not to evaluate the option.
Karin DuPaul, president of the park advocacy group Friends of Swede Hollow, said the group was adamantly opposed to a transit line going through the park.
"There's lots of nature in there," she said, "having something like a train going through there again would change the environment."
The park is in a ravine where a commuter train once ran up to White Bear Lake.
She said the county seemed "halfway receptive" to the group's concerns. 
Olson noted the county has met with DuPaul and attended a Friends of Swede Hollow meeting.
She said the group would continue to keep a vigilant eye on the progress of the Rush Line, and make sure to advocate for the park.
"We just have to keep busy on it," she said.
Other recreation land
The alignment that would go up to White Bear Lake would also interact with the Bruce Vento Regional Trail. 
According to the corridor website, the trail will stay regardless of what happens with the Rush Line.
"The popular Vento Trail will be maintained," it reads. "In most instances it will be co-located... If sufficient right-of-way is not available, the Vento Trail will be relocated in an adjacent corridor to maintain trail continuity."
The corridor could also affect the Bruce Vento Nature Sanctuary just east of downtown St. Paul near the Mississippi River. According to the website, "as downtown routing alternatives are developed, potential impacts, if any, on the sanctuary will be evaluated and shared with the public."
Olson said open houses on the corridor will be occurring throughout the fall. Efforts to reach out to residents throughout the corridor. East Side residents in Districts 2, 4 and 5 will be a focus, Olson said.
Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.
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