Bus service to St. Paul may be on borrowed time
Met Council eyes Lino Lakes Park & Ride as northernmost Rush Line stop
In the wake of Washington County’s 2008 approval of a quarter-cent sales tax to fund transportation improvements, this area scored a coup in 2010 with the inclusion of Forest Lake and Columbus bus stops as part of the Rush Line Corridor along Interstate 35E.
Coach busses have hummed along the new Route 285 ever since, offering four morning departures and four evening arrivals from and to the Forest Lake Transit Center and the Running Aces Park & Ride. For $3 per trip, riders can head to three stops in St. Paul or hop off at the White Bear Lake Theatre Park and Ride at County Road J.
However, barring a change of heart by the Metropolitan Council, or a sudden windfall, that local weekday service is slated to stop around the end of the year. The Rush Line Task Force recently learned of Metro Transit’s plans to make the new Lino Lakes Park & Ride the northernmost point of service once that facility is completed.
The Met Council, which oversees Metro Transit, has attributed the decision to usage. Route 285 attracted 32,410 passengers in 2011, less than a third of the 106,284 riders on Route 288 with service between Forest Lake and Minneapolis. Numbers for 2012 are not yet available.
Those who have represented the area as part of the Rush Line Task Force expressed frustration this week with the Met Council’s plan.
Dennis Hegberg, who sat on the task force while a Washington County commissioner, said residents should feel slighted given the investment the county has made in the corridor’s development. In addition to supporting the 2008 tax, the county joined Anoka, Chisago and Ramsey counties in paying $118,000 apiece to help get the wheels turning in 2010.
Hegberg, a Forest Lake resident, feels the route was never given a fair chance to develop. Numbers were slowly increasing, he said, and he expected them to take off next year when the Central Corridor project will link St. Paul with Minneapolis via light rail.
“The St. Paul route will gather up steam as the Central Corridor gets developed in 2014,” he said. “I felt I had a promise it would keep going in that direction, and they would keep it open until at least the Central Corridor opened, to see if ridership gained momentum.”
Forest Lake Councilwoman Susan Young, a current Rush Line Task Force member, said poorly conceived stopping points in St. Paul hurt Route 285’s chances and that poor logic has also been used in planning the route’s alteration.
Going into St. Paul, the busses stop at Roberts Street, the Union Depot and Kellogg Boulevard. Young said she has heard significant feedback from folks looking to be dropped off by Lafayette Road, an area thick with state offices and other significant employers.
Young said the Met Council mistakenly feels riders from the Forest Lake area will utilize the Lino Lakes Park & Ride.
Like Hegberg, Young feels that the fact this area “bit the bullet” by opting into the transit taxing district should not go unnoticed.
“This is very frustrating, because at the same time the Met Council is building new capacity to the south, southwest and southeast, they’re abandoning the northern area,” she said.
Hegberg said Forest Lake is primed to expand once the housing market recovers, but the bus service’s departure would be a step in the wrong direction.
“If the community is going to be able to continue to grow, it is going to have to have transit improvements,” he said. “We have an aging America and people will need those kind of amenities.”
Young said such options have a larger impact than people think. For instance, bus service may prevent a struggling family from needing a second vehicle. Plus, she said, today’s young workers are mobile and businesses are looking to expand into regions with robust transit systems.
While the Lino Lakes facility takes shape, Young said she will be building her case for keeping at least one of the two local bus stops open.
“I don’t consider this a dead issue yet,” she said.