The Lake Links Association held a public meeting November 8 to discuss ideas for the trail segment to be constructed along Highway 96 on the north side of White Bear Lake. Lake Links chair Mike Brooks presented several slides outlining the history of the Hwy 96 corridor, including its origins as a Native American pathway, territorial road to the Rum River, and eventually a state highway. He referenced reports from MnDOT in 1987, which declared this stretch of road unsafe for bikes and pedestrians, devised a plan but never executed it. He noted the original Lake Links Trail Plans from 2001 and recent efforts by the Lake Links Association to complete the trail by working closely with area legislators to secure funding from the Minnesota Legislature. In 2017 each of the municipalities around the lake signaled their support to legislators with their virtually unanimous resolutions of support. He noted that with funding now assigned to complete the trail, the Association’s role is shifting from primarily a fund-raising focus to one of communication and advocacy to help bring units of government together through information, ideas, options, technical assistance, getting the word out, etc. as these agencies review engage the public and implement trail routes and related infrastructure in their communities. He noted decision making and implementation role required by units of government who are assigned legislative funding to complete a trail segment.
Mike paused on a slide of an artist’s visualization created by engineering firm SEH of what the trail fitted along the south side of Highway 96 might look like:
He then invited participants to share their reactions to this illustration, and to ask questions about this segment. Here is a summary of questions posed and responses.
Q: The graphic illustration shows a continuous fence separating the trail from the beach. How will people access the private property on the lake?
A. The illustration did not attempt to depict each driveway access at this time, but should a fence be pursued by local units of government it would be interrupted for each driveway to continue to allow property owners full access to their lakeside property.
Q. Why hasn’t the city or township contacted all the citizens along 96?
A. The local units of government responsible for trail implementation (White Bear Lake, White Bear Township) are expected to announce a public open house event when the timing is right for them and they have an organized vision to explain. The event will most likely include significant graphical information to explain their ideas. With respect to the anticipated “turnback” from MnDOT to Ramsey County of the Highway 96 stretch from Highway 61 to Highway 244, those discussions are going on in the background. Like the public meeting for the trail, there will likely be different events and ways for the public to provide input. Washington County has advanced their discussion with MnDOT to take back the segment of Highway 96 from 244 east to Stillwater. The county’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan includes plans to include a trail in the corridor that will connect with the Gateway State Trail. We will inquire with all agencies about their plans to communicate with the public and extend information as we receive it.
Q. Is there going to be a trail?
A. Yes. The Legislature authorized funds in the 2020 Bonding Bill to complete the Highway 244 and Highway 96 segments of the trail around the lake. A considerable portion of the trail along Highway 96 will be on city-owned property, such as the roughly 800 feet in Rutherford Park in White Bear Township. Overall, approximately 20 percent of the land needed for the trail along Highway 96 is controlled by either the city or the township. Each of the remaining parcels needed to fit the trail is being looked at by these communities.
Q. Is the trail going to encroach on private property, and will eminent domain be used to take property?
A. There are a few parcels which do not include enough right-of-way for the trail on the south side of the highway. We expect that the city and township will wish to study options they can extend to residents. We have heard zero discussion about a land acquisition approach such as eminent domain being considered.
Q. Will they allow snowmobiles on the trail? What about winter and plowing maintenance?
A. Availability of the trail for motorized recreation such as snowmobiles and ATVs / UTVs is highly unlikely, but this needs to be confirmed by the city and/or township. Arrangements for clearing snow will be part of the interagency discussion between the units of government involved, local and Ramsey County.
Q. Would it be helpful for all property owners to know the width of the right-of-way on each of their parcels?
A. Lake Links floated the idea of marking out the land requirements for the trail and boulevard/drainage area. There was some interest in this, and we will suggest it to the city, township, and MnDOT for their consideration.
Q. Where is the baseline used to measure out 33 feet (the extent of right-of-way width in each direction from center)?
A. In 2017 a MnDOT survey crew charted the right-of-way on the south side of Highway 96, pounding wood stakes with pink ribbons to define the outer (lakeside) edge of the right-of-way. After the November 8 meeting at which this question was asked, Mike sent an email to MnDOT to inquire on their methodology in defining this right-of-way. He got a prompt reply the next day from MnDOT’s East Metro Manager: “The R/W (right of way) is surveyed in from known bench marks (survey points) in the area. It is not measured from the center line. As noted, the road is not centered in the R/W, not sure of the history as to why. Some of Steve [Wolgamot]'s research into the history of the railroads influence in this area is probably part of the story.”
Mike also reached out to the engineering firm SEH to confirm the call-out “33’ from the centerline of the road” in their illustration of the trail. Here is their reply: “Good morning Mike. Yes, centerline is the yellow striped line in the center of the pavement."
Q. Is this situation on Highway 96 comparable to South Shore Blvd, and how did they fit in a trail? Is one-way road traffic necessary?
A. For purposes of including a trail, Highway 96 will remain a two-way highway with the trail occupying land off the paved roadway. We are being told that the implementation of the trail along Highway 96 is independent of the right-of-way discussion. With respect to South Shore, it was a central part of the trail discussion.
Q. What about intersections, such as Portland Ave? It’s been suggested a stoplight is needed there, or a crosswalk to the Beach Club.
A. From this meeting and speaking with area residents over the years, the Lake Links Association has been reminded of the significant safety issues in the Highway 96 corridor, especially where roads like Portland and Northwest intersect with the highway. The trail is one part of a total approach to corridor safety. Decisions related to speed, intersections, stop lights / signs, etc., will be part of the turnback discussion between MnDOT and Ramsey County. We mentioned the preliminary engineering study the city and township undertook through SEH in 2019 and showed some of their initial ideas to transform intersections and their safety for all users, including the White Bear Beach Club–inspired idea of moving the entrance to their parking lot to coincide with intersection improvements. We suggest when Ramsey County reaches out to the community about the redesign of the corridor, that residents ask for a traffic study to show how changes in the corridor will affect traffic patterns and volumes on parallel streets to the highway.
Q. Does it make sense at all to have a trail next to a busy highway like Highway 96?
A. Yes. As of 2018, the portion of Highway 96 east of Portland is used by 9,300 cars/trucks per day. The section of the highway east of Portland, per a 2019 count, sees 10,300. Go here to see area roads and traffic counts. It is because of these numbers and the speeds these vehicles travel at that a trail separated and buffered from the road is needed for the vast majority of people who bicycle and for all of those who walk, run, skateboard, wheelchair, etc.
Q. Does it make sense to revisit the question of having the trail on the north side of the highway? Why is the south side preferred?
A. There are serious safety disadvantages to having the trail on the north side of Highway 96. The road is a 40 mph highway in that area with no formal crossing points to the north side at either Ramsey Beach, or from a Highway 244 trail placement in Dellwood. A northside placement means trail users would be crossing the highway twice to go around the lake and would slow the flow of vehicle traffic as well in the two determined crossing locations. Keeping the trail on the lake side of 96 in this segment was identified by consultants in 2001 as the best option for the objective of a trail around White Bear Lake and overall safety of everyone.
Q: The buffer / boulevard in the illustration of the trail along the highway is 7–8 feet. Could that be made narrower with a slower speed limit?
A: We asked engineering firm SEH this question. They wrote back that it was advisable to stay with the 7–8 feet regardless of speed because this amount of separation enhances the safety experience for those on the trail. Bicycle facility design guidelines can be found here.
Q. Should we have a meeting with local officials and MnDOT to ask them these questions?
A. As an advocacy organization, the Lake Links Association encourages people to get involved and ask their questions directly to those in government responsible for projects that affect residents individually and collectively. The names of contacts for all of the agencies involved with the Highway 96 segment are on the Lake Links website. If you require additional assistance is getting a question answered or locating the right person to speak with, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q. Is there a time frame for spending the state funds? Is this being driven by the Met Council?
A. Yes, the money for the trail must be spent by 2024 under the current legislation. If more time were needed, say, due to the timing of the turn-back to Ramsey County, that timeline might be revisited for what would best fit an overall solution. As we noted, the funding for all trail segments received bipartisan support from all local legislators. When funds are allocated by the Legislature to implement a trail solution, those funds are held by Met Council and paid out to reimburse units of government as they complete authorized work.
Q. How will we find out about public meetings with local officials?
A. That will be up to each entity as they advance their work to explain and complete the work. We can tell you that for the South Shore segment, Ramsey County contacted each landowner along South Shore, provided access to notice lists on its website, and published notices in the White Bear Press. The Lake Links Association also would help get the word out for these meetings when they are scheduled.