When asked what bus rapid transit service would mean to Century College in the east metro, Angelia Millender is momentarily tongue-tied.
"Oh my goodness," she said. "It would be a game-changer."
Millender, president of the two-year community college in White Bear Lake and Mahtomedi, broached the idea of extending the Purple Line BRT with the Metropolitan Council just a few weeks ago. And now, with speed unheard of in public transportation planning, the council is considering ending the $475 million line at the college — instead of downtown White Bear Lake, as originally planned.
"It's unprecedented, what we're doing," said Purple Line project director Craig Lamothe.
The revamp of the Purple Line, formerly known as the Rush Line, comes as the Met Council builds out a network of bus rapid transit lines, which are intended to complement the region's light rail service. They're more affordable to build than rail — some operate mostly on dedicated guideways or highways, while others run in traffic. Should the Purple Line begin service in 2026, it would be the Twin Cities' ninth BRT line.
Yet there are a few nettlesome details to the Century College situation. White Bear Lake's city council last March adopted a resolution asking the Met Council to pare the Purple Line's route so it does not enter its "jurisdictional boundaries."
The resolution resulted after opponents in White Bear Lake asserted the BRT line coming from downtown St. Paul — in the works for decades — would ruin the small-town charm of the lakeside community.
As a result, transit planners regrouped and came up with two new alternatives for the line's northernmost station, the Maplewood Mall Transit Center or a park-and-ride facility in Vadnais Heights.
As planners researched the best way to get to both, Millender said she called Met Council Chair Charlie Zelle and floated the idea of Century College becoming the line's terminus. She explained that transportation at her two-year college of about 17,000 students, more than a third of whom are people of color, has long been a challenge.
"Parking lots are often full, students are parking everywhere," Millender said in an interview last week.
It would also mean that White Bear Lake's treasured downtown would remain untouched by the Purple Line, since the college is several miles away. There are currently six routes to the college being studied, including one that would stop at a nearby FedEx facility in Mahtomedi.
Metro Transit's Route 219 bus currently stops hourly at the college on weekdays, but a BRT line would feature frequent, all-day service seven days a week.
The main challenge for the Century College option is persuading White Bear Lake officials to retool or rescind their resolution barring the line from the city. And Vadnais Heights and Maplewood still remain strong options for the line's endpoint.
White Bear Lake Mayor Dan Louismet said last week he stands by the anti-Purple Line resolution. The mayor didn't vote on the matter initially, per the city charter, but he championed it.
Council Member Bill Walsh, who also fought to keep the line out of downtown White Bear Lake, said "philosophically, I think [the Century College option] is a good idea, when you think about the thousands of students, staff and faculty coming and going there."
Walsh said the city council needs to discuss the idea further. Likewise, Council Member Kevin Edberg said until the Met Council reaches "a more advanced level of development, I think we should wait and listen."
But Council Member Dan Jones, who supports the line, said the college option could be a way to "get public transportation to the northeast metro. It could be a great compromise." Council Members Heidi Hughes and Steven Engstran did not respond to a request for comment.
The college option could mean Vadnais Heights is dropped from project. Lamothe notes there are more than 80 businesses, including manufacturing giant H.B. Fuller and the TCO Sports Garden, en route to the park-and-ride that could benefit from public transportation. (The Maplewood Mall Transit Center station would remain in the project either way.)
In September, an advisory committee will determine which option to pursue.