The portion of Interstate 94 between Saint Paul and Minneapolis has reached the end of its useful lifespan. The Minnesota Department of Transportation is in the process of planning the future of the corridor with a project called "Rethinking 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. However, MnDOT's current planning documents uphold the status quo and continue to center cars instead of communities. This needs to change.
28 Minneapolis and Saint Paul community organizations released a letter to the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) regarding the Rethinking I-94 project. The letter emphasizes the critical opportunity that the Rethinking I-94 project provides to address the negative impacts of the highway. Signing groups call on MnDOT to put the needs of local communities first and prioritize improving outcomes in public health, transportation access and climate emissions.
Amplify the voices of these organizations by sending your own email to the Minnesota Department of Transportation. Our Streets Minneapolis has created an email template that emphasizes the need for climate action, public health, and accessibility to be prioritized in Rethinking I-94. Click here to send an email.
MnDOT's Virtual Open House
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a Virtual Open House for the Rethinking I-94 project. MnDOT invites people to send their feedback on current project documents using this form. This is a vital opportunity for you to directly advocate for a project that truly reimagines the corridor. Click here to visit the form and view sample responses.
Volunteering is the best way to get involved in this project. We're recruiting volunteers for tabling, canvassing, and other outreach opportunities. We welcome all levels of participation. Click here to sign up to volunteer.
Our Streets Minneapolis is building a community-centered movement to put people first in the Rethinking I-94 project.
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 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.
What is Rethinking I-94 | Project Status & Timeline | Happening Now
Why It's Important | Where It's Been Done Before
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. Recently, MnDOT narrowed the project boundaries to the portion of I-94 between Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis and Marion Street in Saint Paul. This is approximately the stretch between the downtowns Minneapolis and Saint Paul.
Critical decisions for the Rethinking I-94 project will be made in the coming months. 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
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 objectives to be achieved by a proposed project. The project’s “needs” identify its specific problems or deficiencies.
These documents 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 reconstruction project. We are working to ensure that the Purpose & Need documents prioritize community needs like accessibility, air quality and climate impact.
The draft Purpose and Need documents are now available on MnDOT's website. The documents in their current form would pave the way for more of the harmful status quo. This is why we submitted a letter with 27 other community organizations calling on MnDOT to fix the documents and put the needs of people along the corridor first. You can read our letter and take action here.
Up Next: Project Alternatives
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:
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 a mental and physical barrier that divides neighborhoods and restricts mobility. This especially impacts the over 1 in 4 households in the project corridor that don't own a car. The freeway also generates high speed automobile traffic that impairs the safety of streets in adjacent neighborhoods. Rethinking I-94 must mean improving transit service and walking, rolling and biking infrastructure to create faster and cheaper transportation options that are accessible to everyone.
More than 250,000 people live within one mile of the freeway in the project corridor. Air and noise pollution from I-94’s car and truck traffic inflicts a serious toll on their health. 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. This is why freeways are called the "diesel death zone." 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, reduce traffic pollution and improve health outcomes in the corridor.
Air pollution from transportation in Hennepin County. Data from the Minnesota Department of Health.
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 reduce greenhouse gas emissions by decreasing driving and improving clean transportation options.
The freeway occupies land that was once home to hundreds of homes and businesses. Today, many residents in the project area lack convenient, walkable access to amenities like grocery stores, health care and locally owned businesses. Rethinking I-94 must return MnDOT right-of-way to communities to invest in local residents and businesses.
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.
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