It has been a few months since our last campaign update. Things will pick up soon as MnDOT nears the release of Rethinking I-94 project options. Here is where things stand on the Twin Cities Boulevard campaign.
MnDOT will unveil the initial Rethinking I-94 project options in early July.
MnDOT recently sent an email alerting members of the project’s community leaders group they will release the initial project options (called alternatives) to the public in early July. The unveiling will likely occur during the next Rethinking I-94 Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting, a group composed of elected decision-makers from along the project corridor who receive regular updates and provide feedback as the project advances.
After releasing the initial project options, MnDOT says they will “solicit input on the alternatives and to listen to what the community wants to be incorporated and if there should be additional alternatives developed.” Eventually, MnDOT will select one project option as the “preferred alternative” for the corridor.
While MnDOT has not released the project options to the public yet, they have been shared and discussed internally at the project’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings, composed of MnDOT and local government staff and consultants. We are working to obtain the recent TAC meeting slides to learn more about the initial options that MnDOT will be proposing.
When the initial project options are released, here is what we will be assessing.
What do the project options look like?
Thanks to community support, all indications show that MnDOT has included at least one highway-to-boulevard conversion option in the initial project options. However, significant questions and concerns remain about MnDOT's proposed project alternatives. These include:
- Is the boulevard conversion option(s) designed to be a true, walkable urban boulevard, or is it a surface highway that continues to prioritize high-speed traffic? As was seen recently in Duluth, MnDOT could design a strawman “boulevard” that is set up to fail and does not include any of the core features of the Twin Cities Boulevard campaign goals.
- Is there a wide variety of non-freeway options for the public to consider? MnDOT should include multiple project alternatives that remove the highway.
- What transit options are included? We got a preview of the transit options that MnDOT was considering during an October 2022 open house. As we described in this blog post, the transit study had significant issues. Only one non-freeway option was included, which was a bus rapid transit line with just three stations. Transit options like a new subway or an Amtrak connection between downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul were not studied.
- Do the project options repurpose highway right-of-way for new affordable housing, local business space and parks? The I-94 corridor destroyed thousands of homes, businesses, and institutions. The Rethinking I-94 project is an opportunity to return highway land to surrounding neighborhoods for community-owned development.
How will MnDOT evaluate the different options?
We will also track the assumptions, models and metrics MnDOT uses to evaluate the various project options. These will determine if the evaluation process considers boulevard conversion options fairly. Key questions include:
- Does MnDOT’s traffic analysis consider the well-documented impacts of traffic evaporation and induced demand? Decades of data have shown that expanding freeways only makes traffic worse while removing them causes people to drive less often and use other modes.
- Does traffic and transit ridership modeling for the boulevard options consider land use changes? This includes the new housing, businesses, and other destinations that would occupy former highway land.
- How will the project options’ impacts on outcomes in public health, racial equity, climate, city tax revenue and economic opportunity be considered? Traditionally MnDOT has completely ignored impacts on these areas, instead prioritizing maximum capacity for cars and trucks.
- What will MnDOT use to create the cost estimates for each project option? Highways have large long-term maintenance costs and many external costs that are not reflected in their construction cost. Conversely, highway-to-boulevard conversion projects have produced billions of dollars in economic benefits for surrounding communities.
The coming months will be a critically important time to contact decision-makers and share your support for Twin Cities Boulevard. While we wait for the release of the initial project options, there are two ways that you can take action today.
Send an email to MnDOT staff and decision-makers from along the project corridor. Let them know what you want to be included in the upcoming project options.
- Register to speak at the July Policy Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting. While the meeting date and time are unknown, we will notify all who complete the linked form when MnDOT announces the meeting details.