Why a Highway-to-Boulevard Conversion is the Best Path to Reparative Justice

A comparison of the benefits of a highway-to-boulevard conversion and highway mitigation strategies like noise walls, pedestrian bridges, and land bridges.

We are often asked about the difference between a highway-to-boulevard conversion and a land bridge. This page includes additional information about the differences between the two project types and why we are advocating for a highway-to-boulevard conversion as a solution to repair all of the highway’s harms and reconnect the entire Rethinking I-94 project corridor.

A highway cap would allow MnDOT to rebuild the highway and would prolong harms for another half century.

We fully support the reconnection of the Rondo neighborhood and policies to create wealth-building opportunities and direct reparations for Rondo’s Black residents and descendants. However, a land bridge would fail to address the highway’s harms in both Rondo and the other neighborhoods within the project corridor.

A land bridge, also known as a highway cap or freeway lid, is a structure that is built over a segment of a highway. The Rethinking I-94 project will determine the future of 7.5 miles of I-94 in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. If a land bridge is constructed as part of the Rethinking I-94 project, it will mean that 7.5 miles of the underlying highway is also rebuilt for another half century.

.The project area for MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 project

Throughout the Rethinking I-94 process, MnDOT has shown a clear bias for rebuilding the highway. We are concerned that MnDOT could use the inclusion of a land bridge in the Rethinking I-94 project to suppress community opposition to a reconstructed highway and to reframe a highway expansion project as a form of reparative justice.

This has occurred in other cities like El Paso, Austin, Denver and Portland, where state departments of transportation added land bridges to highway expansion projects in response to community opposition. Land bridge projects also have a history of being gradually watered down as the highway project progresses and costs increase and cities are unwilling to take on the significant long-term maintenance costs of highway caps.

MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 project will impact tens of thousands of people.

Historically, Black residents and low-income communities have been disproportionately impacted by urban highways like I-94. This continues to be true as the future of I-94 is decided. People in every highway-adjacent community deserve racial, economic and mobility justice.

A land bridge would fail to meet the needs of the 7.5 mile project corridor:

  • The vast majority of people who live near the highway would see no health, pollution, noise, transportation or community development benefits from a land bridge and rebuilt highway
  • 93% of the corridor (7 out of 7.5 miles) would not be reconnected
  • Approximately 91% of residents who are Black, Indigenous and people of color in the project corridor, including 85% of Black residents, live outside the 0.5 mile land bridge area
  • Approximately 93% of community members in the corridor with household income below the poverty line live outside the 0.5 mile land bridge area
  • Approximately 92% of people living along the corridor with a disability live outside the 0.5 mile land bridge area

A land bridge would also perpetuate the harms in Rondo.

Minnesota Department of Health Map of Traffic Pollution in the I-94 Corridor

Building a land bridge for the Rethinking I-94 project wouldn’t truly “reconnect” Rondo. It would leave the highway and its harms underneath for another 50 years.

  • A land bridge would not reduce air pollution or the resulting health impacts in Rondo including an asthma hospitalization rate over 3x the MN average (MN Department of Health data)
  • This was confirmed by the findings in Reconnect Rondo’s own Health Impact Assessment report, which concluded that “there is a low likelihood of residents experiencing positive change in asthma and cancer rates”
  • A land bridge would not improve transportation options for the nearly 1 in 3 Rondo households who do not have access to a car (American Communities Survey data)
  • A land bridge would not reduce the traffic deaths and life-altering injuries that occur on the highway every year
  • A land bridge would not reduce noise pollution beyond the immediate 3-5 block area
  • A land bridge limits opportunities for reparative investment like affordable housing and business space to the land bridge itself as opposed to the entire 7.5 project corridor
  • A land bridge does not reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Map of asthma hospitalization rates along the Rethinking I-94 project corridor

The Twin Cities Boulevard would advance reparative justice in Rondo and every community in the Rethinking I-94 project corridor.

This includes:

  • Reduced car & truck traffic would improve air quality, reduce noise pollution and improve the resulting health impacts like asthma, cancer, impaired cognitive function and dementia
  • New zero-fare rapid transit, protected bikeways and walkable businesses would improve affordable transportation access for the 28% of households in the corridor who do not have access to a car
  • Universal design features would improve comfort and accessibility for disabled people and would reduce traffic deaths and injuries
  • The boulevard and restored street grid would reconnect the entire Rondo neighborhood and every community in the 7.5 mile project corridor
  • New affordable housing & business space on reclaimed highway land would be prioritized for local residents and business owners who have been historically impacted, including Black residents and descendants of Rondo
  • Increased greenspace and reduced pavement would reduce extreme heat risk and improve access to outdoor recreation
  • Reduced traffic and improved clean transportation options would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to achieve city, state and federal climate goals

Our organizing and planning is grounded in transparency and community consent. We believe that every impacted residents should be allowed to consider all options for the Rethinking I-94 project and should be informed that a future without the highway and its harms is possible.

We will continue engaging the community to give them the information and resources they need so they can create their own vision for the Twin Cities Boulevard and shape MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 project so that it achieves their definition of reparative justice.