Reductions in traffic, air and noise pollution sought.

The Saint Paul City Council passed a resolution on February 3 calling on federal and state highway authorities to keep the needs of local residents at the forefront while designing the future reconstruction of I-94 between Highway 61 in Saint Paul and Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis.

The resolution states that the City Council “strongly opposes the repair or reconstruction of I-94 in its current form and categorically rejects any lane expansion within its boundaries.” It calls for traffic volume reductions consistent with state and local goals for less air and noise pollution along the I-94 corridor.

The city wants the freeway project to reflect the vision and values of the neighborhoods I-94 bisects, according to Ward 1 City Council member Dai Thao. Recalling the harm that I-94 construction inflicted in the 1960s, the resolution pushes for a reconstruction project that rights the wrongs of the past by creating new economic opportunity.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) kicked off the Rethinking I-94 planning process in 2016 with the intent of working with neighbors to shape a new vision for the freeway that reconnects neighborhoods on either side and helps revitalize those areas. “MnDOT is now working on what the next steps will be for the I-94 study,” said MnDOT spokesperson Dave Aeikens. “We’re in the listening phase, working with community leaders to determine community and transportation needs. We’re building more than roads and bridges. We’re working with others to help build the community.”

The City Council is asking for community engagement in planning the reconstruction of I-94 with such features as enhanced mass transit, better connections to freeway transit, and new opportunities for residential and commercial development. One proposal is a several-block-long land bridge over I-94 between Lexington Parkway and Dale Street.

The biggest challenge Thoman and Meister see is getting MnDOT to move away from its typical ways of doing things. Although there have been several years of community engagement, few local priorities have been included in project documents so far, Thoman said.

Union Park District Council committee members Debbie Meister and Barb Thoman have been working for several months with other local groups to create a new vision for the freeway. Almost two dozen organizations have joined the effort. The City Council resolution reflects many of the points those groups are making, according to Thoman and Meister. The reconstruction of I-94 has the potential to cause more harm to adjacent neighborhoods, they said.

 

house ad

 

The biggest challenge Thoman and Meister see is getting MnDOT to move away from its typical ways of doing things. Although there have been several years of community engagement, few local priorities have been included in project documents so far, Thoman said.

I-94 in Saint Paul currently carries an average of 150,000 vehicles per day. “All adding lanes does is induce more traffic demand,” Meister said. “It adds more cars, more pollution, more noise and more strain on communities.”

 

Making room for transit, pedestrians and bicyclists.

One big priority is transit, according to Thoman and Meister. The City Council resolution asks that bus rapid transit be added between the downtowns of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. The women recommended that a freeway lane be reserved for high-occupancy vehicles and a new freeway transit line that at a minimum has stations at the University of Minnesota and Snelling Avenue.

Another idea is to bring back the bus shoulder on I-94 between Highway 280 and downtown Minneapolis. That allowed buses to avoid traffic backups. The bus shoulder was converted to a general purpose traffic lane after the I-35W bridge collapse in 2007, and it was never restored for transit use.

Meister and Thoman applauded the City Council’s push to eliminate the barriers I-94 creates for walking, biking and transit access. They also support the council’s request that the freeway project extend the Midtown Greenway bike route from Minneapolis to the new bike and pedestrian path along Ayd Mill Road.

City Council president Amy Brendmoen reminded her colleagues on February 3 that the reconstruction of I-35E about seven years ago permanently disrupted the Gateway Trail, an 18-mile bike route between the state Capitol area and the suburbs northeast of Saint Paul. Meister said the Gateway Trail experience is a cautionary tale for advocates of future bike and pedestrian connections around I-94.

— Jane McClure

COMMENTS TERMS OF SERVICE

The Villager welcomes comments from readers. Please include your full name and the neighborhood in which you live. Be respectful of others and stay on topic. We reserve the right to remove any comment we deem to be profane, rude, insulting or hateful. Comments will be reviewed before being published.

Leave a Reply