The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) spoke of a transformative and healing project when they created Rethinking I-94. However, their planning documents do just the opposite, and fail to meet that vision.
These important documents, called the “Purpose and Need” documents, are part of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. They will determine the primary goals of the project, create a set of criteria to evaluate proposed projects and will likely include some initial project options.
The current draft Purpose and Need documents ignore I-94’s significant harms and the people who the freeway has harmed the most. MnDOT is prioritizing the freight industry, suburban commuters and people of economic privilege at the expense of the working class and the economically disadvantaged who live along the corridor in neighborhoods like Cedar-Riverside, Seward, Frogtown and Summit-University.
Our Concerns with the Current Purpose and Needs Document
The current draft document describes two tiers of needs for Rethinking I-94:
-“Primary” needs focus on physical infrastructure condition, vehicle mobility on I-94, and crashes on I-94
-“Secondary” needs include walkability, bikeability, safety on intersecting streets, and the condition of additional infrastructure like retaining walls and drainage
These identified needs completely ignore the highway’s significant harms. The documents focus on moving more car and truck traffic and ignore the air pollution, noise and carbon emissions that it creates. They prioritize fixing pavement conditions instead of fixing the mental and physical barrier that I-94 creates through neighborhoods. The documents make little attempt to improve transportation options for people who do not own a car. For these reasons and more, the documents in their current form are unacceptable.
MnDOT has said that some of these harms will be considered as part of a separate “livability framework.” However, MnDOT is not required to comply with their recommendations. If the current primary and secondary needs stand, then any project proposals for Rethinking I-94 will similarly need to prioritize cars and road expansion. Design proposals that center equity, sustainability, and multi-modal transportation access will be at a disadvantage.
The Purpose and Need must be amended to fully account for the freeway’s many harms and improve the lives of people who live along the corridor.
Suggested Talking Points For Each Feedback Form Question
What transportation issues or challenges do you experience traveling on, along, or across I-94?
Speak from your personal experience. Here are some potential talking points:
- I-94 over-prioritizes cars and trucks and provides nothing for people walking, rolling, biking and taking transit.
- It often takes three to four times as long to travel by public transit as it does by car
- The Freeway trench forms a physical and mental barrier that restricts transportation access along and across the corridor.
- Crossings are infrequent and unsafe for people walking, rolling and biking.
- Traffic on I-94 generates hazardous air and noise pollution
- Traffic on I-94 creates unbearable noise pollution
- Traffic traveling to and from I-94 makes adjacent streets unsafe
- Pavement on the freeway creates a heat island effect that will grow worse as climate change accelerates
After reviewing the Purpose and Need, are there additional transportation needs the project team should consider?
This question asks which transportation needs should the Rethinking I-94 project prioritize.
The draft Purpose and Need documents prioritize moving cars and trucks along I-94 at the expense of nearby neighborhoods. Community needs like transportation accessibility, reduced air & noise pollution, reconnected neighborhoods, and climate action must be fully incorporated into the Purpose & Need.
As was done with MnDOT’s I-94/252 project, staff should combine “primary and secondary needs” into a new set of needs that prioritize the following outcomes:
-Improved access for people walking, rolling, biking and taking transit. The freeway provides little for people without access to a car.
-Reconnected communities. The I-94 trench severs communities. The Rethinking I-94 project should address this by restoring street grid connections along the entire corridor
-Improved air quality. Communities along I-94 experience some of the region’s worst air pollution from traffic. The Rethinking I-94 project must go beyond mitigating additional impacts and redress the harm of decades of unhealthy air.
-Reduced noise pollution. People living, working, and going to school near the highway are burdened with constant sounds of roadway traffic from tires, engines and brakes.
-Safety for all users. Rethinking I-94 should prioritize strategies that foster safety and eliminate fatalities and serious injuries for transportation users along the corridor.
-Climate action. Transportation is Minnesota’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
-Economic prosperity without displacement. It is critical that MnDOT work with partners to implement robust anti-displacement strategies so existing residents and businesses can enjoy the benefits of the Rethinking I-94 project.
After reviewing the Evaluation Criteria, are there additional criteria or measures/metrics the project team should consider using to evaluate alternatives?
This question asks how would you like to measure the pros & cons of a proposed project. This matters because it defines how proposed designs will be evaluated by the planning team.
The proposed evaluation criteria and measurements over-prioritize moving traffic on the freeway and ignore important considerations like public health, multi-modal transportation access and climate impacts.
It is inadequate for important concerns like equity, sense of place, public health and the environment to be relegated to a separate path under “Goals and Livability” and “SEE impacts” criteria which merely seek to reduce additional impacts.
The following amendments should be made to the Evaluation Criteria:
- Metrics that focus on vehicle speed and delay undermine access for people walking, biking and taking transit. Instead of mobility, MnDOT should use evaluation criteria that measure transportation access for all users
- The evaluation criteria should measure transportation access within the broader corridor and consider existing and potential projects like the Green Line, B Line and a Saint Paul extension of the Midtown Greenway
- The evaluation criteria should model current and future greenhouse gas emissions
- It will not be possible to address the climate crisis without reducing driving (as measured by vehicle miles traveled or VMT.) Instead of assuming more driving and more traffic, MnDOT should add measures of induced demand and VMT reduction. This would be in compliance with the VMT reduction goals of MnDOT, Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
- The evaluation criteria should include metrics that model current and future estimated emissions of criteria pollutants from transportation sources in the corridor
- Safety should be defined as reducing serious injuries and deaths for all transportation users. The metrics should account for walking, rolling and biking trips that are not currently taken because of unsafe infrastructure.
- The evaluation criteria should measure current and model future transportation-related noise levels along the corridor
- The evaluation criteria should include measurements of community wealth generation like right-of-way repurposed for community use
If it were up to you, what one change would you make to improve your transportation experience on, along, or across I-94?
This is a broad question to assess your visions for the future. Don’t be afraid to think big. This project will likely determine what the corridor looks like for the next 50 years. Consider the transportation future you want to see and share it with the team. Revolutionary change can seem difficult, but this project is a chance to truly reimagine I-94
- The Rethinking I-94 project should remove the freeway, fill in the trench and replace it with a multi-modal parkway.
- The Rethinking I-94 should add a bike highway that connects Minneapolis and Saint Paul
- The Rethinking I-94 project should add new rapid transit service in dedicated lanes between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul
- MnDOT should return right-of-way to a community land trust to create new housing, businesses and greenspace.
Any other ideas or feedback you believe the team should consider?
This is another broad question to wrap in any other feedback you have for the team. We encourage you to emphasize that this project can be a path to a new future of transportation in Minnesota.
The Rethinking I-94 project should truly rethink the freeway and not assume its reconstruction. This project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to replace the freeway with a transportation corridor that benefits nearby communities by reducing pollution, increasing non-driving transportation options, and reconnecting communities. Minnesota statute 174.01 directs MnDOT to improve multimodal access, environmental justice, equity, quality of life, air quality, and greenhouse gas emissions in its transportation projects. The Rethinking I-94 project should prioritize these outcomes and aim to create better communities, not a better highway.