28 Community Organizations Reject Minnesota Department of Transportation’s “Rethinking I-94” Planning Process

MINNEAPOLIS & SAINT PAUL, MN, October 27, 2021 – 28 Minneapolis and Saint Paul community organizations released a letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) regarding its Rethinking I-94 project. 

According to MnDOT, Interstate 94 between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul has come to the end of its functional life and must now be removed, repaired, or replaced. The community letter rejects MnDOT’s draft environmental review documents and their premise that this section of I-94 must be rebuilt to accommodate more cars and truck traffic.

In 2015 MnDOT acknowledged the racism behind the development of I-94. This section was designed by traffic engineers and officials to destroy neighborhoods along the corridor, including neighborhoods that were home to 80% of Saint Paul’s Black population. MnDOT’s “Rethinking I-94” project was supposedly established in part to listen carefully and respond to community needs before determining the future of the corridor.

Signatories to today’s letter assert that the highway continues to harm adjacent communities by:

  • generating air and noise pollution that contribute to significant health disparities
  • adding carbon emissions during a growing climate crisis
  • severing neighborhoods and creating poor transportation accessibility
  • taking up land that could be returned to communities and used for affordable housing, commercial space for local businesses, greenspace and other needs

The letter faults MnDOT’s environmental review process, required by the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Minnesota Environmental Policy Act (MEPA). Authors state that instead of truly rethinking the freeway and redressing existing harms, MnDOT’s draft Purpose and Need and related environmental documents lay out a path that would maintain the harmful status quo.

The letter emphasizes the critical opportunity that the Rethinking I-94 project provides to redress harms. 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. 

Leaders of several signing organizations offered their views on the draft documents and project process:

“Currently, MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 documents and the listed primary needs look no different than any other highway reconstruction project,” said Ashwat Narayanan, Our Streets Minneapolis Executive Director. “While we appreciate that MnDOT has acknowledged the highway’s harms and has said that they will be considered part of a ‘Livability Framework,’ this framework is useless if these considerations aren’t used to design project alternatives in the first place. Our letter calls out these problems and suggests an alternative framework that puts the needs of people who live, work and go to school along the corridor first.”

According to Margaret Levin, State Director of the Sierra Club North Star Chapter, “Transportation is the #1 cause of climate change pollution in Minnesota, and we are falling far short of our emission reduction goals to address this crisis. MnDOT’s current approach ignores the enormous costs of continuing to follow the status quo – exacerbating the original and ongoing harms caused by urban highway construction, and sinking more resources into highway expansion. This approach is in direct conflict with state, county, and city goals to increase clean transportation access and reduce vehicle miles traveled.”

“The Union Park District Council joins Saint Paul and Minneapolis neighborhoods from along the project corridor to ask MnDOT to put the needs of highway-adjacent communities first,” said Abdulrahman Wako, Union Park District Council Executive Director. “Rethinking I-94 is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine the highway and achieve cleaner air, reduced noise and safer transportation access along and across the corridor.”

Brenna Doheny, Executive Director of Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate responded, “In Rethinking I-94, MnDOT has a golden opportunity – and responsibility – to address health disparities that disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities along the I-94 corridor, and to take bold action to address the climate crisis and its associated negative health impacts. The Purpose and Need Statement for this project must prioritize strategies that reduce air and noise pollution, to protect the health of all Minnesotans for generations to come.”

“Our transportation system’s status quo is broken and unacceptable—it prioritizes the movement of cars over the movement of people, over justice and sustainability, and over long-term prosperity. This misplaced priority is particularly evident along I-94, where a disproportionate number of residents are transit dependent and where exhaust can make the air dangerous to breathe. MnDOT must craft a Purpose and Needs Statement that looks forward and reduces vehicle miles traveled, consistent with MnDOT’s own goals, instead of entrenching our inequitable past,” said Sam Rockwell, Executive Director of Move Minnesota.

“The impact of I-94 ignited a ripple effect of harms to our Black communities throughout the metro that are comprehensive and deep. Rethinking I-94 holds the opportunity to advance racial, economic, environmental, and health equity for current and future communities within the project corridor, with hope that the past is not forgotten. MnDOT and its partners must ensure that this project improves outcomes in these areas, not just mitigates,” said Joo Hee Pomplun, Executive Director of The Alliance.

The following 28 community organizations joined the letter to ask MnDOT to do better:

  • Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota
  • Cedar Riverside Community Council
  • Creative Enterprise Zone
  • Elliot Park Neighborhood Association
  • Environmental Law and Policy Center
  • Fresh Energy
  • Hamline Midway Coalition
  • Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate
  • Lexington-Hamline Community Council
  • Macalester Groveland Community Council
  • Midtown Greenway Coalition
  • MN350
  • Move Minnesota
  • Neighborhoods First!
  • Our Streets Minneapolis
  • Prospect Park Association
  • Resilient Cities and Communities
  • St. Anthony Park Community Council
  • Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition
  • Seward Neighborhood Group
  • Seward Redesign
  • Sierra Club North Star Chapter
  • St. Paul 350
  • Sustain Saint Paul
  • TakeAction MN
  • The Alliance
  • Union Park District Council

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