Feds give $2M to plan 'land bridge' above I-94 in St. Paul

Group hopes to reestablish historically Black Rondo neighborhood

An aerial view of Interstate 94 in the Twin Cities
Interstate 94 runs through the Rondo neighborhood with a view toward Minneapolis, above the Victoria Street bridge in St. Paul, on March 14.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News 2022

Nonprofit community group ReConnect Rondo is working to reestablish the neighborhood, business and cultural ties on either side of Interstate 94 in St. Paul, which divided the historic Rondo neighborhood during the post World War II interstate building boom.

Those efforts have included a proposal to build a deck over part of the interstate and restore some of the amenities razed during road construction — and it’s getting $2 million to do so.

Renderings of a road project connecting neighborhoods
A rendering for the land bridge, an effort to connect the Rondo community that was split in two by the construction of I-94.
Courtesy of ReConnect Rondo

Federal authorities on Tuesday announced the planning grant funded by the 2021 infrastructure law. Rondo was one of 45 projects the U.S. Department of Transportation funded as part of its effort “to reconnect communities” torn apart by the building of the federal highway system and other transportation projects.

“The timing was fortuitous,” ReConnect Rondo Executive Director Keith Baker said in statement. “But it is also incredibly validating to see the federal government take responsibility for the lasting harm rendered on communities all these years later.”

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The goal of what’s called the land bridge is to reconnect the vibrant community split in two by the freeway’s construction in the 1950s and 60s, destroying around 700 homes and 300 businesses, according to Baker’s group.

St. Paul Central football players performed flips
Members of the St. Paul Central High School football team march in the Rondo Days parade. Rondo, St. Paul's historically Black neighborhood was split in two by I-94 in the 1960s.
Judy Griesedieck for MPR News 2016

ReConnect Rondo says the land bridge could add approximately:

  • 500 new housing units

  • 1,000 residents

  • 1,500 jobs

  • $4 million in city revenue every year

The bridge would serve as a cap over the part of the road, between Chatsworth Street and Grotto Street, that encompasses what used to be the entire Rondo neighborhood.

In an earlier MPR News interview, Baker said the project would rely on a combination of public and private funds, and could cost more than $450 million to complete.

Previous proposals from other advocacy groups included ripping out the entire stretch of that freeway and replacing it with various modes of travel.

Procession for Philando Castile
The bridge would serve as a cap over the part of the road, between Chatsworth Street and Grotto Street, that encompasses what used to be the entire Rondo neighborhood.
Caroline Yang for MPR News 2016

The federal grant adds to $500,000 in state and city planning money to be used for environmental impact analysis, traffic studies and community outreach.

The money will also help coordinate with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's ReThinking I-94, a project to make needed repairs to the aging infrastructure, while creating methods to reduce further harms caused by the main east-west artery through the Twin Cities.