Imagining a Safer Highway 96
Updated: Oct 27, 2021
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.
The third graphic shows multiple high-level ideas for improving intersection safety. Emphasis was placed on the intersection of Portland and Highway 96. It includes a possible new entrance into the White Bear Beach Club’s lakeside property. This graphic was originally conceived by SEH when White Bear Township and the City of White Bear Lake hired them in 2019 to review the corridor for safety and trail alignment. Each community received $11,000 from the Minnesota Legislature in 2018 and pooled these funds to hire SEH.
The emphasis on the Portland / Highway 96 intersection came out of a 2018 meeting we had with members of the White Bear Beach Club.
Colored symbols in the third graphic list nine different safety approaches to the intersection. These elements are centered on rethinking how people and cars interact at his crossing point, with consideration of how changes to the intersection could aid a possible new entrance for White Bear Beach Club members driving to their lakeside property. The call-out pointing to the “suggested new Beach Club driveway” places the entrance opposite Portland, possibly making a four-way intersection. The location of the suggested entrance is via parcel 12302241069, which is owned by White Bear Township. The Town Board is aware of this idea and open to discussing it as part of the overall plan for the corridor
The crossing notation at Northwest, too, is a placeholder identifying that a safer intersection design is needed. The same consideration would be true for Pacific, because all intersections need to be reviewed for crossing safety.
Final decisions regarding intersection changes will most likely not be part of the trail project. Chances are much better that meaningful changes in intersection design will need to wait a few years until MnDOT and Ramsey County complete their negotiation regarding responsibility for the Highway 96 segment from Highway 61 to Highway 244. MnDOT wishes to relinquish responsibility to Ramsey County in the next few years. The negotiation will decide how much MnDOT should pay Ramsey County to get the road to the level the county wants to accept ownership.
Lake Links Role
The Lake Links Association is a Minnesota non-profit that played a key role in obtaining legislative funding to complete a trail around White Bear Lake. Now that the primary funding is in place, our primary role is switching to advocacy and communication. It is in that spirit we paid to have these images created.
Before hiring SEH, we spoke with the City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township. Since it is their role to implement this trail segment, we wanted to be sure we were not crossing a line by creating and presenting this work. We were told it would be fine, but essential to include a disclaimer. Since the print on the images is so small, you need to know that these images represent Lake Links Association visualization of what a well-functioning pedestrian intersection 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.
By law, a unit of government such as the City of White Bear Lake or Ramsey County can be assigned legislative funding. Though Lake Links Association helped raise the $7.87 million assigned by the Minnesota Legislature to the trail around the lake project, we received none of this funding.
In the coming months, we expect the City of White Bear Lake and White Bear Township, perhaps with MnDOT and Ramsey County, will host a public open house event to talk about their official ideas for the Lake Links Trail segment along the Highway 96 corridor.
Thank you for reading. Please send in questions or comments to email@example.com. The ones we can field we will. The others we will pass to our contacts at either the City, Township, County or MnDOT. Let’s keep the discussion going.