After a bus-rapid transit station proposed for White Bear Lake’s charming downtown prompted widespread disdain among residents, transit planners now are pitching a slate of different options for the Rush Line’s final stop.
And they’re asking the public to weigh in.
An open house Thursday evening at White Bear Lake City Hall drew some 120 people who peered at poster boards explaining the transit project and outlining six new options for stations near the city’s downtown district.
Planned for more than a decade, the Rush Line is expected to run largely in dedicated bus lanes between Union Depot in downtown St. Paul and White Bear Lake, going through St. Paul’s East Side, Maplewood, White Bear Township, Vadnais Heights and Gem Lake.
The 14-mile project, with a price tag of $420 million to $475 million, is expected to begin passenger service in 2026. In the broader scheme of Twin Cities transit planning, the Rush Line will be the lone spoke serving the northeastern suburbs.
The project quietly hummed along until October, when a White Bear Lake property owner posted a petition online calling for city officials to slow the project down and find a different location for the station. The petition, which drew more than 4,500 signatures, said the line’s proposed final station “will destroy the charm and small town feel” of downtown White Bear Lake, as well as increase traffic and congestion in the area.
The controversial station was slated to be located on Clark Avenue at Second Street, now home to a U.S. Bank branch. In addition to a station platform, the proposal called for retail shops at street level with up to 200 spots of parking above.
“I really didn’t like the Clark Avenue option,” said White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson. “Downtown White Bear Lake needs to be preserved.”
The six new station proposals are all within a mile of downtown, including the Clark Avenue site but without the retail and parking component. Two are located west of Hwy. 61, options that would require pedestrians to cross the highway to get downtown.
“It is busy, but people do cross [Hwy.] 61 today,” said Rush Line Project Manager Andy Gitzlaff. “There is definitely a desire to make sure we have good connections there.”
Planners are now in the process of defining what the Rush Line’s 21 stations will look like, Gitzlaff said, so it’s an appropriate time to make a change in White Bear Lake.
Ramsey County Commissioner Victoria Reinhardt, who lives in White Bear Lake, said she was heartened by the healthy turnout for Thursday’s open house. She said the Rush Line is “incredibly important” for getting people to their jobs, school, and medical appointments, and it will help local employers attract workers.
Public input will be reviewed by Ramsey County transit planners and presented to the White Bear Lake City Council and the project’s Policy Advisory Committee.
White Bear Lake resident Barbara Boyer said she attended Thursday’s event because she was afraid the bus line would “wreck the charm” of the city. After studying the presentation, Boyer said later in an e-mail that she had even more questions — “Such as, who wants this?”
If people commute to downtown St. Paul, there’s a big park-and-ride facility at Maplewood Mall, she noted. And if others want to come to White Bear Lake to dine or shop without driving, they can take an Uber. “So what’s the purpose?” she asked.