Minnesota has a generational opportunity to repair the historic harms of the dispossession of land for the construction of I-94 that decimated thousands of homes and businesses in majority-minority communities. The entire Rethinking I-94 project corridor community deserves the opportunity to legitimately consider options that do not rebuild the highway and how it would impact lives. Currently, there are two bills that appropriate money to study the feasibility of a boulevard conversion in the 7.5-mile section of I-94 between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul, with support from legislators in both cities and communities surrounding the corresponding stretch of highway.
Despite this support, MnDOT published a fear-mongering legislative fiscal note (which basically estimates cost) attached to the bills that takes a preemptive position against a boulevard conversion, stating that the study “could cause losses in the tens or hundreds of millions” of dollars. This is factually inaccurate and is an unethical strategy for blocking the bill before it even gets a committee hearing.
So, what's in the fiscal note?
Irresponsible, Inadequate Research
MnDOT’s main argument is that the feasibility study could require them to redo the Rethinking I-94 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process because they would then be forced to conduct a similar analysis for all Rethinking I-94 project alternatives. Not only is this not true, MnDOT admitted that consideration of impacts like public health, racial equity, climate, and economic justice are not included in the existing analysis, saying “the items in the bill are outside the EIS effort.”
MnDOT also disclosed that their current traffic modeling does not take into account critical metrics like traffic evaporation and induced demand, which is needed for a full and fair analysis of a boulevard conversion. MnDOT admits that the proposed study scope “would need to include traffic modeling that does not exist in the Metro.” This is why this study is urgently needed. It is reckless and irresponsible to move forward blindly without adequate consideration of these impacts.
Additionally, there is little basis for MnDOT’s claim that the existing environmental process prevents them from being able to do this study. The legislature has full authority to direct the department to research these questions.
Inaccuracies & Cost Inflation
MnDOT intentionally inflated the cost of a consultant. When advocating for this study, we partnered with experienced transportation engineers to determine the costs of a feasibility study. MnDOT’s assumed consultant fee is nearly double that estimate. While this cost estimate is inflated, it is no reason not to schedule a committee hearing for this bill. The ongoing costs of the highway, as well as the opportunity to turn this corridor into something that actually generates tax revenue for Minnesota, is still worth their inflated cost estimate.
Dirt & Hypocrisy
Beyond the study, MnDOT attacks the idea of a boulevard conversion and frames it as "too difficult" for the agency to complete, citing the material needed to fill in the trench. This point ignores the fact that the agency capably dug out and carried away seven miles of soil and bulldozed hundreds of homes and businesses when they first built I-94 in the 1960s. The hypocrisy is stunning.
What's not in the fiscal note?
MnDOT makes no mention of long-term cost impacts that save money and increase commerce and tax revenue. This feasibility study would give the public and decision-makers information about the economic benefits of new housing, businesses, and tax revenue. In previous highway-to-boulevard conversion projects, these benefits have far outweighed the construction cost (for example, a $120 Million highway removal project in Chattanooga, Tennessee, generated $4.8 billion in new investment).
The bill needs to be heard in either the House or Senate Transportation Committee before the committee deadline of March 24, 2023, to be considered for inclusion in a larger transportation spending bill. Let MnDOT Commissioner Nancy Daubenberger know that you do not appreciate MnDOT's underhanded attempt at stopping this generational opportunity to study a boulevard conversion that will affect over 100,000 Minnesotans living along I-94.