Infrastructure

On the Reconstruction and Rethinking of Interstate I-94

September 30, 2020

Two people smiling and waving to the camera. Sign reads: "help us rethink I-94"

Roads that run through our neighborhoods should serve community and reflect the values of community. Values that center equity and transparency. As we look to our collective past and the history of Minnesota’s roads, we see wrongs that need to be righted.

Today, MnDOT is in the midst of a planning process for reconstructing I-94, on the stretch where it connects downtown Saint Paul and downtown Minneapolis. This project presents one of the largest opportunities to address the negative community impacts that stemmed from the construction of the highway, and to lower emissions.

In the 1960s, the construction of I-94 destroyed homes, businesses, and displaced families. Communities of color were particularly harmed: 1 in 8 African Americans in the historically Black Rondo neighborhood lost a home because of the construction of the highway. It also–along with highway and road projects around the state and country– prioritized car travel above all else, making it the go-to way of getting from one downtown to the other.

Today, with the highway in full operation, harmful emissions from traffic contribute to the state’s worst health disparities: particulate emissions contribute to increased mortality near the corridor. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions contribute to accelerating climate change.

The I-94 reconstruction currently planned between 35W to 35E, must address these harms and look to be a corridor that puts people and community first. MnDOT can achieve this by creating walkable spaces near the highway, investing in fast transit, and committing to maintaining or reducing lane miles dedicated to private automobiles.

Specifically, MnDOT should:

  1. Build NO new lanes, and instead convert an existing lane to dedicated transit;
  2. Make fast, frequent, and improved transit a priority
  3. Create safe connections and crossings in the communities adjacent to the corridor and build more livable communities with community
  4. Create a process of involvement that is transparent, inclusive and economically beneficial to communities of color impacted by this corridor in the past, present and future

No New Lanes

As we plan for the future, we know adding new lanes for cars will not make our transportation system work better for people. Cars on the street and entering and exiting highways make it dangerous to walk and bike in our neighborhoods. Particulate emissions from highway travel lower life expectancy by years, and even decades, in the communities adjacent to those corridors. Further, both Minneapolis and Saint Paul determined that car travel needs to be reduced 35-40% to adequately reduce climate pollution.

Finally, any expansion of I-94 that might take land from adjacent communities would show an incredible disregard for the lessons we have learned from highway expansion projects in the past, and in particular of the impact I-94 left on the Rondo neighborhood.

MnDOT should plan for less traffic and meet our state’s climate goals.

Make Transit a Priority

Historically, I-94 had a shoulder lane between the downtowns that was available and reserved for bus use–this meant buses could avoid rush hour traffic jams and stay on schedule. In 2007, the bus shoulder lane was converted to a general traffic lane—slowing transit, reducing transit ridership, and increasing space for private automobiles.

MnDOT needs to return to prioritizing transit on the I-94 corridor. MnDOT should create a dedicated transit lane to provide fast, reliable, and improved transit between the two downtowns.

This transit line should be an express line that connects the downtowns, with select key stops in between those end points. These stops should connect the I-94 bus to other key lines–for example, by connecting to the A-Line at Snelling–and should connect to major high-transit-rider destinations–for example, by connecting to the University of Minnesota at Huron Avenue.

Community Livability and Connections

Reconnecting neighborhoods through improved street crossings for people on foot, using transit, on bicycles, or using wheelchairs should be a priority. MnDOT can do this by ensuring the I-94 reconstruction project reduces frontage roads to one lane and slows down traffic through infrastructure design. This should be done to insure this doesn’t result in traffic increases on residential streets.

Connections

  • Land bridges or freeway lids can reconnect communities and restore property-tax-generating land, how does this project use innovative thinking and design for the future.
  • Maximize use of the frontage roads for bicycle travel and connections, for example by connecting Ayd Mill to the Midtown Greenway.

Environmental / Climate / Health

  • Account for emissions produced from I-94 now and in the future. Plan now for how we lessen the harm to communities along the corridor.
  • Reduce the negative impact of the 280/I-94 interchange by finding a solution that doesn’t involve a cloverleaf or flyover structure.

Physical Safety from Cars

  • Walking and biking near or across I-94 should feel safe at all intersections and frontage roads adjacent to the highway. To achieve this MnDOT must work with cities and counties to use design to reduce car speeds and enhance the pedestrian and bicyclist experience.
  • Corridor planning and study must include highway and traffic impacts on nearby streets, for example how does the project address the burden one-way frontage roads have on residential streets and communities.

A Just Process and Outcome

MnDOT should construct a community process for rethinking I-94 that is transparent and inclusive, and results in an economically beneficial outcome for communities of color impacted by the I-94 corridor in the past, present and future.

The time is now, to right the wrongs of the past and to look towards a collective future. As we look to our collective future, we know that we must work together to protect our neighbors and our climate.

Right now, MnDOT is in the second phase of Rethinking I-94. We encourage you to review this project and join us in raising these community concerns. How will this project benefit the people who live in the communities adjacent to the highway? How is this project working to achieve our collective community and climate goals?

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