An Observer’s “Mach” Day in the Life of a Commuter

  • 5:15 a.m. — In the wee hours of the morning, with just a few sips of coffee in me, I ran out the door, running a bit late en route to the Customer Appreciation Event to show appreciation for existing riders of the Rush Line buses.  There was good news to share with riders:  Another year of service was guaranteed funding.
  • 5:17 a.m. – Pitch black sky, it’s easy to notice that Mn/DOT hasn’t replaced the burned-out lights on the ramps leading to and from I-35 from County Road 7/Hillside Avenue in Pine City.  As a consolation, Walmart SuperCenter’s sign is now completely lit after months of having a few lights burned out on it.
  • 5:30 a.m. – Driving by Rush City, very dark yet, the new blue neon wrap around the Holiday StationStore sign brightens the sky more than the Minnesota State Correctional Facility lights.  The traffic begins to pick up.  Ensuring everyone was alert, the driver a few cars ahead swerves across the centerline and then corrects himself.  Was it a coffee spill or related to a cell phone?
  • 5:45 a.m. – Passed a beige van with a “Dragon Hockey” bumper sticker in the back window, possible evidence that there are commuters from Pine City, or perhaps Rush City, since the Dragons are a co-op of the two schools in the sport of hockey.
  • 5:47 a.m. – Was passed by a Buick with a “Pine County Fair” bumper sticker, perhaps further evidence of the commutershed from the north.
  • 6:03 a.m. – Passed the No. 285 leaving Running Aces on County Road 97 toward its next destination.  A white pop-up tent is set up at the Mn/DOT Park & Ride, where riders for the next bus are already gathering.
  • 6:05 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. – Conversing with a Councilor from the City of Columbus, the Multimodal Transportation Manager for Anoka County’s Highway Dept., Kate Garwood, and her intern and other Rush Line staff, and welcoming the hundreds of riders who waited in line and boarded the 285 and 288 toward one the other of the Twin Cities.  Some of the buses were standing-room only. 
  • 7:45 a.m. – En route to Pine City… A few afterthoughts:  With spotting a few familiar faces, the localized bumper stickers on the way down, and noticing a sport utility parked at the park-and-ride with the words “Snake River Outfitters” on it, it was easy to see that Pine City contributes to the need for transit options to serve the commuters going to and from the Twin Cities daily.  It was a nice event, complete with breakfast snacks, one’s choice of coffee or hot chocolate, and even enough promotional ice scrapers to go around—though I hope we won’t need them for a while yet.

Northern Lights Express, Rush Line Updates

When Chair Steve Raukar of St. Louis and Lake County’s Regional Railroad Authority, opened the Northern Lights Express (NLX) meeting Weds., May 25, he laughed and said, “How’d everyone like having a month off?”

The April meeting was canceled and during that time, locally, there was some discussion brought forth by the District 2 Commissioner, Mitch Pangerl, at the Pine County Board about whether to continue to participate in the NLX project. 

“It’s an easy project to be against,” said Doug Carlson, the Pine County representative of to the NLX Board, who supports NLX.  He was one of the three to vote (3-2) in favor of keeping a part of the future high-speed passenger rail discussions in Pine County, and having a seat at the table.

“This project isn’t right for cancelation,” said Bob Manzonline in his administrative report.  “It is very much alive right now and moving forward.”

While a specific route is still being determined for the express train connecting Minneapolis and Duluth, NLX but it was recently awarded $5 million to complete engineering and environmental work by the federal government.

According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Transportation, NLX was one of 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects receiving a total of $2.02 billion in federal funds.  24 states, the District of Columbia and Amtrak submitted nearly 100 applications for the funds.

What about commuters?

As for the Rush Line, bus route changes began Feb. 14 of this year for faster weekday commuting into downtown St. Paul and the task force opted to tweak arrival times on the route from Forest Lake. 

According to Mike Rogers, senior transporation planner for the Ramsey County Regional Rail Authority, many of the changes, intended to build ridership, were suggested by people already riding the route.

Also discussed at the Rush Line Corridor Task Force’s most recent meeting, May 19, was the Chisago-Isanti County Heartland Express bus services.  Craig Rempp of Heartland Express noted, “People from Pine City are asking about use of the service.” 

Need a ride from Pine City to the Twin Cities? 

Presently, Pine City and Pine County are served by Arrowhead Transit‘s but services, which has a stop in Rush City, but doesn’t go any farther south.  However, once in Chisago County, one can hook a ride from the Heartland Express to Rush Line’s Route 285, which starts at the Forest Lake Transit Center and also has a stop in Columbus in Anoka County, before proceeding farther into the Twin Cities. 

Transit: You now have a choice

Now a common sight along Pine City’s Main Street: An Arrowhead Transit bus. The company began its services transporting senior citizens in the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota in 1974 and today offers rides to anyone who desires so. Ever expanding its service area–even into Pine County–it is now one of the largest rural transit providers in the country.

It’s been said that no matter where you live, when choices other than the private car are available for getting around, people will use them.  Pine Citians and others living outside the Twin Cities metro area are no exception thanks to expanding transit options.  

Minnesota 2020’s recent report on the state of Greater Minnesota transit found ridership from 2003 to 2009 grew by over 20 percent, and it’s projected to continue to grow.  Rising gas prices and the affordability of the system could be among the reasons why ridership numbers are rising.

Thought transit was an urban issue?  Consider this:  In 2008, 11.2 million rides were taken on Greater Minnesota transit, a 7.8 percent yearly increase, surpassing the Twin Cities.  In fact, more than 60 transit agencies across Greater Minnesota provide rides to tens of thousands of individuals each day. 

Arrowhead Transit, which serves seven northeastern counties covering 16,000 square miles, recently began offering Dial-a-Ride in Pine County–one of just a small handful of counties in the state with no transit at all.  In February, Arrowhead was averaging 16.9 passengers per day in Pine City, the county seat.   The transit company began transporting senior citizens in 1974 and is now one of the largest rural transit providers in the country.

Pine Citians now have a chance to seize a vitally important opportunity, by riding the bus.  Having transit in Pine County is a boon to the economy.   According to a Winona Daily News article,  “a government-sponsored study pegged transit’s average economic impact per rural county in America at more than $1 million per year, with a benefit-cost ratio of more than three-to-one in improved access to employment and education, increased tourism and tourism-related jobs and reduced living costs in remote areas.”

What kinds of transit is offered to Pine Citians?  On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Arrowhead Transit offering door-to-door service for travel to work, school, medical appointments and other destinations.

Get on board to keep this exemplary system running and growing in Pine City and in Pine County!  For a pamphlet outlining services available in Pine City, click here.

More choices to come?

While bus transit is one alternative to getting around, other options are being discussed, for example, the the Rush Line (commuter rail) and the Northern Lights Express (high-speed passenger rail).  And, partially funded through a federal appropriation and a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources grant, is the Twin Cities-to-Twin Ports trail linkage, which will eventually connect the Twin Cities to the Twin Ports.  With the multitude of new transit modes in place, one won’t have to rely solely on the automobile.

Question & Answer on Future Rail Lines

Q.  I’ve been trying to keep up-to-date on developments regarding the Northern Lights passenger rail line connecting the Twin Cities to Duluth.  It appears that the rail will run from Cambridge on a straight course to Hinckley.  This concerns me.  If it even stops in Pine City it would be on the outskirts West of town instead of in town where it would serve more residents.  If residents have to/are able to drive to the edge of town in order to catch a train they’re more likely to just keep driving.

What do you know of the current trajectory of the Northern Lights passenger rail and which part of Pine City it may run through?  Do you know if it will be stopping in Pine City?  Thank you for your time.

A. Thanks for your question.  I appreciate your interest in serving Pine City’s future transit/transportation needs.  Here’s some information about the Northern Lights Express (NLX) passenger rail and how it differs and relates to the Rush Line commuter rail, the line which runs directly through Pine City:

Northern Lights Express

(High-speed passenger rail)

This is a proposed rapid-transit line which will attempt to move people quickly between the Twin Cities and the Twin Ports, and further connect to a nation-wide rapid transit system.  Below, please find a proposed route map.  As you will see, the nearest stops would be in Hinckley and Cambridge.  Keep up-to-date on their Web site at www.northernlightsexpress.org.

Also, there are two informational open houses coming up in our area regarding NLX, one July 29, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Sandstone Senior Center, 206 N. Main Street; and the other Aug. 3 from 6:30 – 8:30 p.m. at the Armed Forces Reserve Community Center in Cambridge, 505 Spirit River Drive (County Rd. 70).

nlx-proposed-route.jpg

Rush Line Corridor

(Commuter Rail)

This is a proposed suburban rail, intented to get people from the central city (St. Paul’s Union Depot) to the adjacent suburbs, on out to the exurbs and terminate at Hinckley to the north.  It is much like the North Star commuter rail line that just opened in the northwest metro area whereby it makes more frequent runs to/from the metro and serves commuters as well as those interested in attending theater or a ball game, etc.  Below, please find a proposed route map.  As you will see, there would likely be a stop in Pine City.  Keep up-to-date on their Web site at www.rushline.org.

 rush-line-proposed-route.jpg