Imagining a Safer Highway 96

Updated: Oct 28

By Mike Brooks, Lake Links Chair

Welcome to our new website and blog! Over the coming months this blog will feature ideas and commentary from Lake Links board members, local and county officials, and you, our supporters. We are designing our new site to be more expressive about the value of trails, provide more insight into trail discussions, and extend greater opportunity for participation.

This post focuses on one of the of remaining uncompleted, yet funded, segments of the Lake Links Trail: Highway 96 on the north side of White Bear Lake. This segment continues the shared-use separated trail along Lake Avenue in White Bear Lake and will extend from Ramsey Beach east to the Washington / Ramsey County line.

Highway 96, like many highways, is not centered in the corridor, meaning it does not have an equal amount of right-of-way on either side. In the case of Highway 96 there is considerably more public right-of-way on the north side of the highway than the south side. For many properties on the north side of the highway it extends well up into the front yards of their homes. Despite this available public resource on the north side, to meet the around-the-lake trail’s safety objective, a southside trail placement would maintain proximity to the lake and avoid the need to cross the highway twice—once out of Ramsey Beach and then back across the road to pass through Dellwood on Highway 244.

To provide reference and define the area in question, we viewed the Ramsey County GIS map. Viewing the interactive property site over the 3,500-4,000 feet the trail would run from Ramsey Beach to the Washington/Ramsey County line to the east, we counted 33 parcels of land on the south side of the highway. Most of these parcels either have reasonable public right-of-way or are owned by a unit of government. For example, east of the intersection at Portland is Rutherford Park, which occupies a segment of abandoned rail bed. It is owned by White Bear Township and represents about 750 feet along Highway 96. In all, roughly 20 percent of the trail’s length along Highway 96 will be placed on land owned by a unit of government.

MnDOT’s 2018 plotting of right-of-way of the highway shows that the amount of right-of-way on the south side of the highway is irregular and land issues exist with a fraction of the parcels.

Visualizing the Opportunity

To afford everyone the same visual understanding of the opportunity along this stretch, Lake Links Association hired engineering and design firm SEH to create a few graphics showing the trail, its dimensions and what safer intersections might look like.

For two of the graphics, we instructed SEH to create an illustration defining what a regional shared-use separated trail fitted to the south side of Highway 96 might look like. We asked them to include information about the different dimensions associated with such a trail and how much land is involved. We then asked them to create a second illustration including a low white fence. The fence shows one approach to delineating private land from the public trail area. It could have breaks where property owner needed access to their lakeside property. The need to create a distinct line between public and private was reinforced to us when we spoke with members of the White Bear Beach Club. It was also cited by residents to the planners who assembled the 2001 Lake Links Trail Network Master Plan.

NOTE: These drawings represent Lake Links Association visualizations of what a well-functioning pedestrian and bike trail might look like along Highway 96. Local, county, and state units of government will make final decisions on all trail designs and alignment.

A paved, separated trail on the south side of Highway 96 would provide far safer travel for pedestrians and bicyclists than the current shoulder option.

Addition of a fence would provide a visual separation between public and private property.