The Twin Cities Boulevard is a vision to replace I-94 between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul and reclaim freeway land for surrounding communities.
A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to repair a terrible injustice.
The pavement, retaining walls and bridges on Interstate 94 (I-94) between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul are deteriorating. The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) Rethinking I-94 project will decide what happens to the highway.
What MnDOT decides will affect people who live, attend school, work, and play near the highway for the next half century.
Why Does This Matter?
Before I-94 was built, city streets connected vibrant neighborhoods in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Residents enjoyed abundant walkable access to amenities like parks, schools, gathering spaces, locally-owned shops and businesses. Then, state transportation planners dug an enormous highway trench straight through these communities.
I-94 was built to expand and enrich wealthy suburbs. It was never meant for the neighborhoods along the corridor or the people who call them home.
The highway seriously harmed city residents in the 1960s and it continues to do so today. The Minnesota Highway Department (now MnDOT) destroyed hundreds of homes, paying little compensation to their owners. They demolished businesses, schools, playgrounds, churches and connections to the things people valued, all to save suburban commuters a few minutes of driving time. Generational wealth disappeared. City residents lost businesses, jobs, and millions of dollars that would never be recovered. In total, 6,000 people were displaced for freeway construction in Saint Paul. In Minneapolis, 24,000 people were displaced by highway construction, representing one of every 20 households.
By far the most severe and intentional consequences of building the highway fell upon the Black, Indigenous and people of color who lived in or near the highway corridor. In Minneapolis, 80% of Black residents lived in the neighborhoods where I-94, I-35W and Highway 55 were built. In Saint Paul, highway planners targeted the Rondo neighborhood, home to 80% of the city’s Black residents.
The harms of I-94 construction are ongoing, even 60 years after MnDOT demolished homes and businesses along streets like 8th and 18th Avenues South in Minneapolis and St. Anthony and Rondo Avenues in Saint Paul. I-94’s river of pollution and vacuum of economic opportunity continues to disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous and people and color. The highway trench reinforces class and racial segregation. Speeding traffic makes local streets unsafe. Transportation access is limited for the 28% of households along the highway who don’t have access to a car, a number that is double the city average. Big-box retailers have replaced locally-owned businesses. Investment and jobs moved into the suburbs, restricting access to living wage employment and everyday needs.
I-94 degrades human health. Air pollution from the highway is associated with serious illnesses, including asthma, lung and heart diseases and cancer. Researchers now fear that constant freeway noise contributes to dementia and anxiety disorders among the people who live nearby. Life expectancy for people who live near I-94 is five years less than the Twin Cities average. For these reasons, areas near urban freeways like I-94 are often referred to as “diesel death zones.”
MnDOT has the power to repair these harms, and they know that highways don’t belong in city neighborhoods.
Instead of designing and promoting alternatives to remove the highway and repair its harms, MnDOT and the Rethinking I-94 project have prioritized the perpetuation of the status quo. That’s unacceptable. I-94 is a paved emblem of historic injustice. It would be devastating if impacted communities were not allowed to replace the highway that literally kills them with a corridor of health, safety, accessibility and economic opportunity.
MnDOT has an extraordinary opportunity to replace I-94 with a multimodal boulevard that more effectively moves people and goods, while also creating new affordable housing and economic activity, cleaner air and reduced climate emissions. MnDOT could take the best practices from multiple successful examples of highway-to-boulevard transitions from around the world to set a nationwide example for reparative infrastructure investment.
The path toward true reparative justice is to remove the highway, reconstruct a community-centered boulevard and return land to surrounding communities.
Introducing the Twin Cities Boulevard
The Twin Cities Boulevard is a growing community vision to replace this section of I-94 with a multi-modal boulevard, return the surrounding land to neighborhoods and fulfill calls for reparative justice along the corridor. The Twin Cities Boulevard will create healthier air, much needed economic opportunity, and accessible, affordable, and sustainable transportation access to places all along the corridor.
The Twin Cities Boulevard vision extends beyond the boulevard. We are asking MnDOT and project partners to use the reclaimed highway land to prioritize better economic and housing opportunities and improved accessibility for those who have been harmed or displaced by I-94. The vision adds jobs and shops, new homes, parks and trees, and better options for how to get around.
The boulevard vision is well within reach. Communities across the country are successfully removing urban highways. I-94 was built for suburban commuters at the expense of the most vulnerable. It was never designed for our cities or the working-class people along the corridor. This is our chance to make it right!
Your Voice is Critical and Needed Today
Decisions are being made now that will determine what the 7.5 mile corridor looks like for the next half century.
Join us in shaping this vision! Together we will engage communities, develop and refine a people-centered vision, and ask MnDOT to create a corridor that repairs past and current harms and invests in a better future. Take the Twin Cities Boulevard community survey to share your priorities.