Bus service to St. Paul may be on borrowed time

Met Council eyes Lino Lakes Park & Ride as northernmost Rush Line stop


The Route 285 bus drops passengers off at the Forest Lake Transit Center Tuesday afternoon. The Rush Line service to and from St. Paul is in jeopardy of stopping at the end of the year. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)
The Route 285 bus drops passengers off at the Forest Lake Transit Center Tuesday afternoon. The Rush Line service to and from St. Paul is in jeopardy of stopping at the end of the year. (Photo by Kat Ladwig)

Clint Riese
News Editor

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.

Local Reaction

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.

  • Samuel

    Say what you want about mass transit, love it or hate it. Use it or don’t use it. But, we residents are paying that extra sales tax for, essentially, these busses. With gas heading to 4 bucks a pop, this is going to make it even harder for people to sell their houses. Why? Because people who want to commute downtown to work will not move any further out than Lino Lakes now. So, everyone is affected by this shortsighted move.

    32,410 riders? Not enough? Only a 3rd of Minneapolis? That’s apples and oranges. There are 3 times as many jobs and 10 times more things to do in Minneapolis. It’s shortsighted moves like these that will keep it that way.

    Before people say “good riddance” I’ll assure you that you won’t be getting a reduced tax. Just a reduced service and your extra sales tax will subsidize other cities.

  • http://www.EricLangness.com Eric Langness

    I warned commissioner Hegberg when he made this decision, even took away the Republican endorsement (unusual first vote!) from him, when he made the deciding vote on taxing the entire county an increase on the sales tax so he could have a bus route that would fail in Forest Lake.

    I warned council member Young as well when she made similar decisions on this topic.

    Wake up Forest Lake, these and others like them in public office will run around town making claims that things will get better once they get more of your money in taxes but their plans seem to fail all too often. It almost never comes to fruition.

    Recent fails include the Ice Arena (broke), Headwaters Development/Park (little development), transit tax (bus route failed) … next failure prediction: City Hall Municipal Complex at the tune of $30 million!

  • Kerri Rude

    This would truly be a hardship for a lot of people using the 285 including myself. Changes were made in December when the route changed to go up Wacuta and down 6th street through St. Paul. I see a lot of ridership lately. Especially with gas prices increased. What about all the school kids that use this bus going to and from St. Paul. Someone should take a ride on the route. Seems haven’t even looked to see how many people are on the bus since they made the route change.

    As a rider we were told the possiblity of the route to change once the Hugo Facility is up and running. If I had not choice, I for one would go to the Hugo Facility as oppose to getting off the freeway in the opposite direction going to Lino Lakes.

    I certainly hope they will keep the earlier hours. I leave on the 5:55 am route. If they have later than that…. I would not get to work on time along with a lot of other people.

  • Sally

    The St. Paul route is failing due to poor bus routes. Hit the state office buildings, and you will double your ridership. It would be nice for more people in northern suburbs to have access to state jobs based in St. Paul.

    As to failure of plans, I guess Mr. Langness was not affected by the overall failing economy? Lucky you.

  • Eugene Huerstel

    Just triple the price for riding. Then all those who are outside the taxing district can help the small percentage from Forest Lake who use it. You know, like pay your fair share. Eugene Huerstel

  • Amanda

    I used to ride this bus, and it was especially a blessing during the 35E construction. I stopped riding it for the exact reason that Young mentions. I would ride it still, but the dropoff locations are poorly located for the hundreds of us working at the state offices. I wish it would continue with more of a “circular” downtown dropoff route expanding to the state offices. Without that change the bus is no longer fesable for time.
    There is no way that I would go to Lino to be routed through Minneapolis to be sent to St. Paul. Who has that extra 90 minutes to kill? Not me

  • Fairshare Eugene

    Eugene, I hate to break the news to you, but if you drive a car or truck, the money you spend on gas taxes or pay in other taxes, aren’t paying for the roads you drive on. The building and maintenance of roads, bridges and highways are subsidized by all taxpayers.

    When you talk bus ridership; you say they should pay their fair share.
    Compare that to highways in rural areas; it cost just as much to build a four lane highway (35 for example) in rural areas (Forest Lake) as it does in urban areas (Twin Cities). Local people are the ones who use the highway the most in the areas where they live. In reality, urban area drivers are subsidizing the rural area drivers. Maybe there should be a higher gas tax in our community to even things out (sarcasm).

    Eugene, all roads are subsidized to some degree by general taxpayer revenue (money not devoted to transportation). In addition, the high population centers subsidize rural roads and highways through the gas tax. Those subsidies technically get larger the smaller the population is in an area.

    Being you live in a small town, I’d be careful what you wish for.

    Is anyone surprised by Mr. Langness’s “Hope for Failure” mantra when speaking to Commissioner Hegberg about the bus line?