With Maplewood’s only bus rapid transit station to go up practically on the campus of the 3M Co., city officials are trying to find ways to make sure that residents who don’t work for the manufacturing giant can easily get to and from the bus stop.
One option the City Council is considering is a multimillion-dollar biking and walking bridge that would cross Interstate 94 and connect the homes near Battle Creek Regional Park to the proposed Gold Line bus route, which will use dedicated lanes to connect bus riders to downtown St. Paul or Woodbury once it opens in 2024.
Before construction begins in a few years on the route, Maplewood will need to decide if it wants to build the pedestrian bridge or otherwise connect residents to the station, the site for which was selected primarily to serve the 3M campus and its roughly 12,000 employees.
“The key to these stations is connectivity,” said City Council Member Bryan Smith. “The big dream is to connect north and south Maplewood. That’s been the challenge for decades, with the big barrier [I-94] that runs through the center of our city.”
The Gold Line is a 10-mile express bus route planned to run generally along I-94 between downtown St. Paul and Woodbury, connecting Maplewood, Landfall and Oakdale.
The proposed location for the Maplewood stop can be tricky to reach, tucked as it is between 3M and the freeway on a one-way frontage road that runs between Century Avenue and McKnight Road.
The frontage road doesn’t allow for public parking nor does it have sidewalks or bike lanes, though a 10-foot-wide bike trail is planned to go in concurrently with the bus route.
Neither McKnight nor Century was designed with pedestrians in mind and can be difficult to cross. The 3M buildings block access from the north and I-94 cuts the station off from neighborhoods to the south, Smith said.
But a pedestrian bridge could connect hundreds of residents within a half-mile to the station, Smith said, while also allowing bus riders entering Maplewood to quickly hop over the freeway and connect to the regional biking and hiking trails that run through Battle Creek.
“Opening access to Battle Creek and all its trail systems could really make sense,” he said. “We’re not talking about a bridge with a chain-link fence and concrete, or something like that. If we’re going to do it, we should do it with some landscaping and art, something to make it iconic.”
City officials will begin studying costs and potential plans for the bridge, as well as options for upgrading bike lanes and sidewalks along roads near the station.
A bridge would almost certainly need the cooperation of 3M, since an entrance point would likely need to be built on the company’s property. Conversations with 3M have been ongoing for months, Smith said.
“They want to keep their campus secure and have understandable concerns about people walking across it,” Smith said. “But I think they’ll be interested in the community benefits of the Gold Line and want to make sure their folks can take advantage of it.”