MnDOT releases the project options for Rethinking I-94 and boulevard options are included!

The Rethinking I-94 PAC meeting was held in-person at MnDOT’s Central Office and virtually on Zoom.

Here is what you need to know about the July 17 Rethinking I-94 Policy Advisory Committee meeting, the initial project options and where things go from here.

On Monday afternoon, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) unveiled the initial project options for Rethinking I-94 during the project’s Policy Advisory Committee meeting. The Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) is made up of elected officials from along the project corridor, and advises MnDOT throughout the project process. For reference, here are Twitter threads documenting the meeting our Our Streets Minneapolis and reporter H. Jiahong Pan. You can also view all project options on the MnDOT website and read our public statement here.

Advocacy success: a boulevard conversion is included in the project options!

One of the proposed boulevard conversion options, “at-grade A”, that was unveiled on Monday.

The biggest news of the day was that two boulevard conversion options (listed as “at-grade A & B”) were included among the ten high-level project options that MnDOT presented. This is a major step forward and is a direct result of the thousands of community members who have voiced their support for repairing the highway’s harms and for the Twin Cities Boulevard vision. An I-94 boulevard conversion is now officially on the table, and momentum continues to build.

Key questions and concerns remain about the proposed options and evaluation process.

Most of the project options would rebuild the freeway.

Unfortunately, the majority of MnDOT’s proposed options would rebuild and even expand the freeway. Considering I-94’s long history of racial injustice and environmental destruction, this is unconscionable. Thankfully, many PAC Members spoke up and made it clear that expanding I-94 is categorically unacceptable. Both the City of Minneapolis and Saint Paul passed city council resolutions in 2021 opposing the reconstruction of I-94 in its current form.

Key questions remain about the boulevard conversion options.

There are major unanswered questions about the boulevard conversion options that will determine if they are in-line with the Twin Cities Boulevard vision. These include:

  • Would the options repurpose land for new housing, businesses and parks?
  • What would the speed limit on the boulevard be?
  • Would the boulevard be designed to ensure that crossing is safe and comfortable?

These factors will determine if these options are true, walkable and community centered streets or hazardous, at-grade highways that continue to put vehicle capacity above people. 

State Representative Samantha Sencer-Mura (63A), commented on this during the meeting.

In response, MnDOT said that these are high-level project options, and specifics like intersection designs and how much land would be repurposed will be determined in the coming months.

MnDOT continues to use misleading transit and traffic modeling.

During the meeting, MnDOT’s presentation included slides that said that options that expand the freeway would be likely to reduce vehicle delay, while options that remove or reduce the freeway would increase congestion. These assumptions are not based in fact, and appear designed to manufacture consent for the freeway’s reconstruction. Time and time again, we’ve seen that building bigger freeways only makes congestion worse. On the contrary, cities that have removed urban freeways have seen traffic evaporate, with more localized car trips and increased walking, biking, and transit. The temporary closure of I-95 in Philadelphia provided another example of traffic evaporation. Despite the major freeway being closed for multiple weeks, data shows that fears about traffic clogging the city were completely unfounded.

MnDOT’s transit ridership modeling for the boulevard conversion options are also fundamentally flawed, as they do not consider the impact of replacing highway land with new housing, businesses, parks and other destinations. The models essentially assume that the excess land would sit empty. Despite this major error, the boulevard option still performed the highest among the studied transit options.

MnDOT should add more boulevard conversion options, including a subway option

The final outcome of the Rethinking I-94 project must be co-created by communities along the corridor. Two boulevard conversion options is not adequate. We are calling on MnDOT to add a wide variety of highway removal options that allow the community to consider all possibilities. 

These options should include: 

  • A street that is designed to be walkable and easy to cross
  • Zero-fare transit service, including options that repurpose the trench for a new subway
  • New parks and community gardens
  • A bikeway that connects the Twin Cities
  • A community land trust to return land back for new housing and businesses, affordable and prioritized for existing community members, particularly people of color who have borne the brunt of the highway’s harms

PAC Members, including Chris Meyer from Senator Omar Fateh’s office (SD-62) echoed the desire to add more non-freeway, boulevard conversion options during the meeting.

In order to help the public better visualize what the options would look like, MnDOT should add renderings that depict the street level perspective.This is especially important because MnDOT’s current images of the project options are not to scale, and misleadingly portray the boulevard option and occupying the same width as the freeway.

Supporter Lisa Nelson created the following to-scale cross sections via StreetMix that depict the status quo, the boulevard option and two of the freeway options near Allianz Field in Saint Paul.

Support for the Twin Cities Boulevard was nearly unanimous from both PAC members and the public.

A sincere thank you to everyone who attended the meeting, spoke during the public comment period, or contacted their elected representatives in support of the Twin Cities Boulevard vision. Your voices are being heard! State Representative Kaohly Vang Her (64A) mentioned that she has been consistently hearing from constituents who support a boulevard conversion. Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley (D-4) said that a boulevard conversion is the preferred option of her constituents and called on MnDOT to invite an expert that has worked on highway removal projects in other cities to present at the next PAC meeting.

How will MnDOT evaluate the project options?

Moving forward, it will be critically important to monitor how the various project options are evaluated. MnDOT has a long history of establishing project measures that only consider vehicle delay and traffic capacity, while completely ignoring critical considerations like pollution, health impacts, climate, racial equity, and transportation access for people without cars. Community member Nahid Khan called this out during the public hearing, stating that this had been her experience as a resident impacted by MnDOT’s I-94/252 project.

PAC Member Celeste Robinson from Minneapolis City Council Member Robin Wonsley’s office (W-2) called out that importance of first outlining how each project option will impact surrounding communities and the climate before the process moves forward.

Next Steps

Take action by completing MnDOT’s feedback survey!

MnDOT released a public survey to collect feedback on the initial project options, which will be open through the summer. We need as many community members as possible to complete the survey, share support for the at-grade options (MnDOT’s term for a boulevard conversion) and share your specific priorities for the project.

MnDOT also shared that there will be a virtual listening session and two in-person open houses, one in Saint Paul and one in Minneapolis, to collect feedback on the initial project options. They are expected to occur in August & September and we will share information as soon as it becomes available.