The Twin Cities Boulevard is a vision for MnDOT’s “Rethinking I-94” project.
What is Rethinking I-94?
The pavement, retaining walls, bridges and underlying infrastructure on I-94 between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul is nearing the end of its useful life. Rethinking I-94 is a MnDOT project that will determine the future of the corridor. The Rethinking I-94 project area is currently a 7.5 mile stretch of I-94 from Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis to Marion Street in Saint Paul.
Project Status & Timeline
MnDOT created the Rethinking I-94 project in 2016, beginning with initial outreach and public engagement. While construction likely won’t begin until 2026 or later, critical decisions are being made now that will determine the project’s future.
Happening Now: Environmental Impact Study (EIS) Process
The EIS process includes creating the project’s “Purpose and Need” documents, which are currently under development by MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The project’s “purpose” is a broad statement of the primary intended results and objectives to be achieved by a proposed project. The project’s “needs” identify its specific problems to be solved.
The identified “purpose and needs” will then be used for developing and evaluating project alternatives, which are the various project options to be studied. As a result, these documents will be critical for determining if Rethinking I-94 truly reimagines the freeway corridor or if it is merely a rebranded freeway repair and expansion project.
In 2021, MnDOT posted draft versions of these documents, which can be viewed here. Unfortunately, the draft documents would pave the way for more of the same, a reconstructed freeway with more traffic, more air pollution, climate emissions and environmental injustice, more divided communities, wasted tax dollars and insufficient transportation options.
28 community organizations call on MnDOT to do better
In response, 28 Minneapolis and Saint Paul community organizations sent a joint letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) calling on them to amend the draft EIS documents for Rethinking I-94. The letter emphasizes the critical opportunity that the Rethinking I-94 project provides to address the negative impacts of the highway and benefit adjacent neighborhoods. Signing groups call on MnDOT to put the needs of local communities first and prioritize improving outcomes in public health, transportation access and climate emissions.
Next Steps: Amended Documents & Initial Project Options
Upon receiving the community letter and more than 400 public comments calling for improved project documents, MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher announced that amended project documents would be unveiled in 2022. Her announcement was made during the December 2021 Rethinking I-94 Policy Advisory Committee meeting. We expect that MnDOT and the FHWA will unveil the amended documents will be unveiled in late summer 2022.
In fall/winter of 2022, MnDOT will unveil the project’s draft Scoping Decision Document (SDD). This is a summary of the various EIS documents and includes potential project options, also known as alternatives. These will be the potential project options that MnDOT will consider for Rethinking I-94. They could include a reconstructed highway, an expanded highway and a highway-to-boulevard conversion, among other options. Eventually, one of these options will be selected as the “preferred alternative” for Rethinking I-94.
It is critical that the Twin Cities Boulevard vision is included in the Scoping Decision Document’s potential alternatives. It is equally important that the Scoping Decision Documents purpose, needs, goals and evaluation criteria give fair consideration to a highway-to-boulevard conversion. Oftentimes, these documents are written in a way that all but assumes the highway will be rebuilt and expanded.