Rethinking I-94

Our Streets Minneapolis is building a community-centered movement to put people first in the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Rethinking I-94 project. This project will determine the future of the I-94 highway corridor roughly between downtown Minneapolis and downtown Saint Paul. 

The construction of I-94 was devastating for communities along the corridor and the highway’s harms are ongoing. If we want to build a truly sustainable transportation system that works for everyone, we must move beyond urban highways like I-94. 

This project is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine the freeway corridor and to put the needs of people and the planet ahead of automobile traffic. We envision a corridor with reduced emissions, cleaner air, reconnected communities and abundant transportation options for people walking, rolling, biking and taking transit.  

This vision must be co-created with people along the corridor who experience the freeway’s impact and who have been historically left out, especially Black people, Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC). We will center the experiences and wisdom of these communities as we continue this work.

We need your help to reimagine I-94 and create a more sustainable transportation system in our cities. Sign up for updates and involvement opportunities:

What is Rethinking I-94 | Project Status & Timeline | Happening Now
Why It's Important | Where It's Been Done Before

 


What is Rethinking I-94

The Interstate’s pavement and underlying infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life. Rethinking I-94 is a MnDOT project that will determine the future of the I-94 corridor in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Rethinking I-94 study area contains a 15-mile stretch of I-94 between Broadway Ave. in Minneapolis and Hwy 61 in Saint Paul. Recent project proposals narrow the project boundaries to the portion of I-94 between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul, though the final boundaries are still to be determined.

Project Status & Timeline

MnDOT began public engagement in 2016 and the project is now progressing through the state and federal Environmental Impact Study (EIS) process. 

According to MnDOT, the EIS process includes six main components:

1. A clear statement of the problem(s) the project is trying to solve

2. A definition of the project area and affected environment

3. A range of project alternatives that could be implemented to address the problem(s)

4. An evaluation of each project alternative’s impacts

5. Selection of a preferred alternative

6. Public comment periods throughout the process

Happening Now: Purpose & Needs Documents

The EIS process includes creating the project’s “Purpose and Need” documents, which are currently under development by MnDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The project’s “purpose” is a broad statement of the primary intended transportation results and other related objectives to be achieved by a proposed project. The project’s “needs” identify its specific problems or deficiencies. The draft Purpose & Need document is expected to be posted by MnDOT for public comment in early 2022.

The identified “purpose and needs” will then be used as the basis for developing and evaluating project alternatives, which are the various project options to be studied. Consequently, the Purpose and Need document will be critical for determining if Rethinking I-94 truly reimagines the freeway corridor or if it is merely a rebranded highway repair and expansion project. We are working to ensure that the Purpose & Need documents prioritize community needs like accessibility, air quality and climate impact

Why is Re-thinking I-94 important?

Urban highways like I-94 lie at the foundation of an auto-centric transportation system that divides neighborhoods, pollutes communities and destroys our climate.

Rethinking I-94 impacts:

Transportation Access

The I-94 highway corridor impedes people walking, rolling, biking and taking transit and creates hazardous conditions for people using all modes of transportation. The highway forms mental and physical barriers that divide neighborhoods and restrict mobility. The freeway also generates high speed automobile traffic that impairs the safety of streets in adjacent neighborhoods. Rethinking I-94 must mean building infrastructure that supports easy and accessible transportation options for all users. 

Public Health

More than 250,000 people live within one mile of the freeway in the project corridor. I-94’s car and truck traffic inflicts a serious toll on their health. Pollution from tailpipe emissions and tire and brake wear has caused air quality in the corridor to be among the worst in Minnesota. Exposure to traffic pollution is associated with elevated rates of asthma, cancer, heart disease, birth defects, dementia and premature death. The highway’s constant noise pollution is also linked with health impacts like stress and hearing loss. Rethinking I-94 must address this environmental injustice and reduce traffic pollution in the corridor.

Air pollution from transportation in Hennepin County. Data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Climate 

We are in the midst of a climate crisis and transportation is Minnesota’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. The City of Minneapolis has determined that even with rapid electrification, a 38% reduction in driving rates will be necessary to achieve its target of 80% greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2050. In other words, reducing emissions and achieving our climate goals will require reducing driving and investing in infrastructure that supports walking, biking and transit. The Rethinking I-94 project must invest in climate solutions and not double down on our state’s largest pollution sector. 

A Growing Movement

Cities across the country and world are removing their freeways to serve the needs of people and the planet. “Rethinking I-94” is a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine the highway corridor in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Embarcadero Freeway, San Francisco, 1991

The Embarcadero Freeway once carried over 100,000 vehicles per day. After it was damaged in an earthquake in 1989, momentum picked to permanently demolish the freeway that divided downtown from the waterfront and polluted adjacent neighborhoods. Ultimately the freeway was removed and replaced with a tree lined multi-use boulevard, featuring lanes for streetcars and bicycles in addition to general traffic. Concerns about traffic congestion were short-lived and today it is difficult to imagine that the former freeway, now referred to as “a monstrous mistake”, once towered over this neighborhood.

I-35, Duluth, TBD

An effort is underway to reimagine I-35 in Duluth. The highway divides downtown from the Lake Superior waterfront and takes up 20% of the city’s downtown land area. As a replacement for the highway, Duluth residents envision a new parkway that reconnects the city and provides improved transportation options. While details are still being determined, this would include tree-lined sidewalks, bike trails and dedicated space for existing and future transit lines. The new parkway would also allow the community to reclaim 20 acres that the freeway demolished for new housing, businesses and greenspace. 

Cheonggye Expressway, Seoul, 2005

First constructed in 1968, the Cheonggye Expressway was an elevated highway that replaced the Cheonggye Creek. As Seoul’s population boomed, traffic congestion on the expressway and its resulting noise and air pollution choked the surrounding Cheonggye area. As a result, residents began to organize to remove the freeway and restore the historic creek. The idea gained momentum in 2001 when Lee Myung-bak was elected mayor of Seoul. His platform included cutting automobile use in half by improving the city’s public transit system and replacing the Cheonggye Expressway with a new reconstructed waterway. Over 80% of Seoul residents supported the plan and the project was completed in 2005. Traffic congestion improved after the expressway’s removal. The project was such a success that since the Cheonggye Expressway was removed, Seoul has demolished 15 additional freeways in the city.

I-81, Syracuse, 2022

The City of Syracuse and the New York Department of Transportation announced plans in 2019 to remove a portion of I-81, which runs through the city’s downtown. The freeway will be replaced with a reconstructed street grid, which will reconnect neighborhoods and improve the health and mobility of adjacent residents, 40% of whom live below the poverty line. The project is expected to begin in 2022. 

Get Involved

Please sign up to stay engaged and learn how you can join the fight to “rethink” I-94!

For questions and more information about the Rethinking I-94 campaign, contact Alex Burns. [email protected], 651-402-0334


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