Update on grant application plans for the City of Minneapolis, City of Saint Paul and MnDOT
From the moment the US Department of Transportation opened the application period for the Reconnecting Communities Pilot Program (RCP) on June 30, residents have called on MnDOT and Minneapolis & Saint Paul City leaders to take advantage of this federal funding opportunity and submit a joint application to study the Twin Cities Boulevard.
Since then, over 30,000 emails and dozens of phone calls were made to ask decision makers to take advantage of these funds to study corridor-wide solutions for repairing the highway’s harms.
On October 13, the grant application deadline concluded. Here is what we know about the decisions by MnDOT, the City of Minneapolis and the City of Saint Paul regarding the RCP grant opportunity:
MnDOT and the City of Minneapolis did not apply for a Reconnecting Communities grant.
MnDOT chose not to apply this year. During the most recent Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting on September 26, MnDOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger justified this decision by saying that the agency is concerned that a boulevard conversion study would bias the process of designing and evaluating alternatives (aka project options). Commissioner Daubenberger said that MnDOT feels it will be in a better position to apply for funding once the project alternatives are finalized. However, the fact is that MnDOT’s process is already heavily biased toward a reconstructed highway. Now is the time to conduct a robust analysis of a boulevard conversion, before the project options are set and the project moves forward.
The City of Minneapolis also chose not to apply this year. Despite the huge implications of the Rethinking I-94 project for Minneapolis communities, including Seward, Cedar-Riverside and Prospect Park, Mayor Jacob Frey and Public Works leadership chose to pass on this funding opportunity. While this decision was made in late August, Neither the Mayor’s office nor Public Works staff have provided the public with an explanation for this decision.
The City of Saint Paul applied for a Reconnecting Communities grant, but the application DOES NOT include a boulevard conversion study.
In September, we shared that Saint Paul was still considering options for a Reconnecting Communities grant application. The City ultimately decided to partner with Reconnect Rondo to apply for a planning grant. While the full details of the grant application have not been disclosed, the City did confirm that a boulevard conversion study was not be included.
Your voice is being heard!
While it is disappointing that Saint Paul City leaders chose to pass on an opportunity to study corridor-wide solutions for repairing the highway’s harms, it is clear that the massive amount of public comments have had a positive influence on the scope of the City’s application.
During the PAC meeting, St. Paul Chief Resilience Officer Russ Stark stated that the application will seek funds to further study the implementation of an African American Cultural Enterprise District in the Rondo neighborhood. Instead of exclusively focusing on a land bridge, the grant would be used to ensure compatibility with all possible outcomes of the Rethinking I-94 project. The City’s application will also seek funds expand community engagement in the Rondo neighborhood and seek feedback on the upcoming Rethinking I-94 project alternatives. Our hope is that this will include informing residents about project options that wouldn’t rebuild the highway, as this has not been included in the City and Reconnect Rondo’s community engagement to date.
Timing is critical
There is an urgent need to conduct a boulevard feasibility study. The Rethinking I-94 project continues to advance and MnDOT is now moving forward with designing and narrowing down project alternatives.
Even if a boulevard conversion is included, it is unlikely that non-highway options will receive a fair analysis. While we are awaiting full versions of the new Rethinking I-94 Purpose & Need documents, the summary revealed at the September 26 Policy Advisory Committee meeting showed that MnDOT continues to prioritize high-speed car and truck traffic over repairing the highway’s harms.
The Reconnecting Communities grant program is a critical opportunity to conduct a feasibility study to demonstrate how a boulevard conversion could work and debunk MnDOT’s biased traffic assumptions. If this doesn’t happen before the project alternatives are finalized, it will likely be too late.
Our Streets Minneapolis has submitted a planning grant application to study the Twin Cities Boulevard
While a City-led application would have been most likely to be funded and most effective on influencing the Rethinking I-94 process, this opportunity is too important to pass up. For this reason, Our Streets Minneapolis has submitted a planning grant application to seek funding to conduct a boulevard conversion feasibility study.
Specifically, the application seeks funds to conduct a boulevard conversion feasibility study, including a transportation access study and a environmental and community impacts analysis, and expand community outreach to co-create the vision for the Twin Cities Boulevard.
- Transportation Access Study. Since MnDOT is likely to cite projected traffic/freight impacts as the reason that a boulevard conversion is not feasible, this study aims to debunk MnDOT’s car-centric traffic modeling and conduct a comprehensive analysis of how a boulevard conversion would reconnect neighborhoods and impact access to affordable transportation access. This includes modeling future traffic evaporation and studying how freight and commercial traffic would be impacted by a boulevard conversion.
- Environmental and Community Impact Assessment. This study would evaluate how a boulevard conversion would impact outcomes in air & noise pollution, environmental justice, climate, racial equity, economic opportunity, affordable housing access, measures, land use, traffic safety, and health outcomes
- Expanded Community Outreach. The grant would also expand door knocking and community engagement capacity to better reach residents in the project corridor, raise awareness about the Rethinking I-94 project and continue to incorporate community feedback into the Twin Cities Boulevard vision
Take action! Ask federal decision makers to fund a boulevard conversion study.
USDOT and FHWA will now begin the process of reviewing applications and will award funding.
Take action by emailing federal transportation decision makers and sharing your support for the Twin Cities Boulevard and a boulevard conversion feasibility study.