Minnesotans can give their feedback on what to do with a busy stretch of Interstate 94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul, the 7.5 miles marred in a history of displacing and polluting communities along the corridor. That’s why the state is rethinking its approach for the decades ahead.
At an unveiling of 10 alternative ideas for the future, Jessica Karls, Director of Transportation Design for the team consulting on the project, laid out MnDOT’s mission for what’s being called Rethinking I-94.
“At this stage we are attempting to understand what alternatives best serve the transportation needs of surrounding communities and businesses, as well as others who use I-94 as part of their travel,” Karls said.
The 10 alternatives presented included a range of ideas, including at-grade options, which means the roadways that intersect are at the same level. While freeways have bridges that separate local roads from the freeway, the at-grade alternatives would feature intersections with traffic signals. Other options included a freeway reduction, in favor of other modes of travel, and options to expand the freeway.
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St. Paul City Councilmember Mitra Jalali, who represents some neighborhoods along I-94, wondered why MnDOT would consider expanding the freeway. The state’s goal is to fix aging infrastructure in a way that also improves quality of life for the residents in the area by cutting down on pollution and noise, and creating business opportunities for communities of color displaced by the highway when it was built in the 1960s.
“Freeway expansion is categorically in opposition to those things, and I am just trying to understand how it got into the mix,” Jalali said.
MnDOT laid out concerns along this stretch of interstate, including congestion and commute times, but stressed traffic won’t be the only factor considered for the rest of the project. Environmental factors will be considered further along in the process. Right now, the alternatives are at a high level, Karls explained.
“MnDOT is committed to walkability and bikeability improvement as part of all build alternatives, specific improvement will be laid out in a later process as well,” Karls said.
I-94 cuts through the historically Black neighborhood of Rondo, and many Black St. Paul residents were displaced by the freeway’s construction. Keith Baker, who serves as Executive Director of ReConnect Rondo, is working on an idea to build a land bridge over that part of I-94.
He doesn’t think there should be a one-size-fits-all approach to the different neighborhoods along the corridor.
“While we may all have common climate changes aspirations, economic development aspirations, housing aspirations, etc., it’s important we look at things in context of communities along the corridor,” Baker said.
ReConnect Rondo has received federal funding to pursue the land bridge, which they say would reinvest in Rondo through more space to build housing and businesses. MnDOT says it’s committed to working with Baker and community members on the land bridge.
The Twin Cities Boulevard is another idea that had support from residents who weighed in with MnDOT over the last several months. It proposes replacing this section of I-94 with a multi-modal boulevard, including more ways to travel like walking, cycling, and public transit.
José Antonio Zayas Cabán is the Executive Director for Our Streets Minneapolis, which leads the Twin Cities Boulevard proposal. He says MnDOT’s alternatives don’t go far enough yet in creating a path toward equity.
“Removing I-94, replacing it with a boulevard, listening to the options that people are bringing up about high-speed rail, and creating alternatives that lead to better use of the land other than just transportation or vehicle miles traveled, I think it is important for us to keep having that conversation,” Zayas Cabán said.
MnDOT will hold more community engagement events in addition to an online survey anyone can fill out as they continue considering these alternatives in the months ahead. Construction on the project, called Re-Thinking I-94, won't begin for another five years.