open streets team holding up sign supporting the rethinking of I-94

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) released the Rethinking I-94 project options to the public today in the Policy Advisory Committee meeting. We have been advocating for a boulevard conversion option, or Twin Cities Boulevard, to address the injustice of the history of the highway and improve the living conditions of the Minnesotans who live along the project corridor. 

We are encouraged that MnDOT included a boulevard option in the Rethinking I-94 project options. However, we have serious concerns about the proposed options and the criteria MnDOT is using to evaluate them.

Racist History Repeating

MnDOT’s proposed options would continue a long history of racial targeting, class discrimination, and environmental destruction within the Department of Transportation and on this project corridor. In the 1950s and 60s, the Minnesota Highway Department intentionally chose to displace over 20,000 people, businesses, and community institutions by constructing I-94.

Through our research collaborations and the work by Mapping Prejudice Project, we know that thousands of racially restrictive covenants between 1910 and 1940 caused displacement. Instances of racial terror against Black Americans who lived in white neighborhoods forced many Black residents and people of color to move into the areas where I-94 was then routed.

We have afforded wealthy and white community members neighborhoods generational wealth, clean air, walkability, accessibility to amenities, jobs, and health care through racial covenants untouched by freeways. Meanwhile, after I-94 was built, the remaining communities now live in the worst climate, health and economic conditions in the metro area. We cannot continue to ask these people to live in the same substandard conditions for another generation.

Boulevard Conversions Work

MnDOT has an obligation to prioritize a better quality of life for the people who experience those impacts daily. However, the vast majority of project options would rebuild and even expand the freeway. These project options are unacceptable. It is irresponsible that MnDOT’s research does not account for changing land use and ensuing impacts on transit ridership and transportation mode shift. Additionally, MnDOT’s boulevard option does not clarify whether or not the land would be returned to the community, and their rendering implies the boulevard would be the same width as the freeway.

We know from projects in other cities that boulevard conversions work. They create businesses, grow the tax base, and add new affordable housing and amenities, all while reducing emissions, improving air quality, increasing transportation access, and reducing congestion.

Traffic Evaporation & Mode Shift

MnDOT’s assumptions about traffic are a myth. Time and time again, we’ve seen that building bigger freeways makes congestion worse. Cities that have removed urban freeways have seen traffic evaporate, with more localized car trips and increased walking, biking, and transit.

The Rethinking I-94 project is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address the racist history of the highway and reduce carbon emissions from transportation—the biggest contributor to greenhouse gasses in the state. We have knocked over 30,000 doors, and over 70% of people we have spoken to support studying a boulevard conversion. MnDOT should allow the community to reimagine this project area without a highway. 

Twin Cities Boulevard

To achieve racial and class equity, we must; decolonize the project corridor by removing I-94, return the land to the community, prioritize benefits for those who are most impacted by the highway, protect the community with strong housing and community development benchmarks, and allow community members to connect and rebuild their neighborhoods in the same way that was afforded to white families protected by racial covenants.

MnDOT should present a wide variety of project options that remove the highway and add: 

  • Zero-fare transit service, including options that repurpose the trench for a new subway
  • A bikeway that connects the Twin Cities
  • New parks and community gardens
  • A community land trust to return land back for new housing and businesses, affordable and prioritized for existing community members, particularly people of color who have borne the brunt of the highway’s harms

MnDOT must repair harms and not perpetuate them for another 50 years. We stand by other community members and call on members of this committee to hold MnDOT accountable.