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Pushback on St. Paul’s Rapid Transit Project May Not Be Enough to Stop It

The Purple Line, formerly the Rush Line, would run from St. Paul to White Bear Lake, and would service 21 local stations. Despite growing opposition to the $475 million project, it’s unclear if it will be enough to stop the development.

(TNS) — The Purple Line appears to have hit a speed bump — a group of local officials, one city and residents fighting against the east metro bus rapid-transit project.

"It's not faster, it's not cheaper, and it makes no sense for ridership," said Gretchen Artig-Swomley, mayor of Gem Lake, Minn., which passed a resolution opposing the $475 million project.

The opposition — which has marshaled hundreds of lawn signs to express their views — is widespread, according to Elliot Engen, a candidate for the state Legislature.

"There are those who are against it," he said, "and those who don't yet know they are against it."

The Purple Line — formerly the Rush Line — would connect St. Paul and White Bear Lake. It would run 89 buses a day, arriving at stops every 15 minutes along the 15-mile route.

Service To 21 Stations

Supporters of the line say that it would provide service to 21 stations, which would be especially useful for those without cars. The local service is why the Purple Line would be the slowest of any transit alternative, including driving a car and taking existing bus service.

The forces fighting the Purple Line now include two White Bear Lake City Council members, officials from Gem Lake, political candidates and a group called the No Rush Line Coalition.

Group organizer Tim David said anti-Rush-Line petitions have gathered 2,500 signatures. "It's becoming a groundswell. It is only increasing," David said.

It's an issue in the city elections Nov. 2.

Dan Louismet was elected mayor of White Bear Lake and Heidi Hughes won a seat on the City Council on Tuesday. Both have said they oppose the project. The Purple Line would cause "destruction of our small-town community feel," Hughes said on her website.

Council Member Bill Walsh said that 200 people attended an informational meeting Oct. 19, with almost all of them opposed to the Purple Line.

It's not clear, however, if the opposition has the power to kill the project.

Cities Had Offered Support for Line

The cities along the route have supported the plan for years with a series of resolutions, said Metro Transit spokeswoman Laura Baenen.

"We are not here to impose it on people who don't want it," Baenen said.

The Purple Line is regional project involving cities, townships and counties.

"It would be wonderful to have 100 percent unanimity," said Baenen. But it's not uncommon for there to be some lingering objections — even if the majority of cities want it.

Walsh said residents were never given the chance to oppose the project.

"They ask us about the step-by-step details, but never the overall question: Do you want to do this?" Walsh said. "They should have asked: Do you want 89 buses a day? Yes or no?"'

Outgoing Mayor Jo Emerson and the majority of the council had supported the Purple Line.

"I know there is broad support for this in the east metro," Emerson said. "It's a good thing for the entire area. We are in a region, and have to operate as a region and support each other."

Cost At Issue

The opponents object to the cost. At $32 million per mile, it would cost three times more than a six-lane interstate highway through an urban area, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

"I don't think you could come up with a more expensive way to do it," Artig-Swomley said. The Purple Line would need four new bridges over freeways, and more than eight miles of two-lane roads exclusively for the buses.

Opponents scoff at the Met Council's forecast of 7,400 rides per day by 2040. The estimates were made before the pandemic reduced mass transit ridership both locally and nationwide.

An express bus now serves the area, Artig-Swomley said, and only two or three riders get on in downtown White Bear Lake.

For people without access to cars, the area is already served by the nonprofit service Newtrax and the on-demand service Metro Mobility.

Existing bus service makes more local stops than the Purple Line will.

"They failed to recognize that we already have decent public transportation — but there are no riders," Engen said.

The White Bear Lake City Council will vote Nov. 23 on a resolution opposing the line.

"I don't know how that will go," Emerson said.

(c)2021 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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