Image of smog with barely visible Minneapolis skyline, from the perspective of the highway. Image from Bring Me the News

Urban highway projects have a storied history rooted in systemic racism that continues to harm marginalized communities today, dividing and severely polluting minority and low-income neighborhoods at disproportionate rates. 

Highways have many harmful health impacts, including increased rates of asthma, dementia, cancer, and stunted lung growth. They create “sacrifice zones,” where the poisoning of thousands is deemed an acceptable cost of accommodating high-speed car and truck traffic.  Currently, few protections in Minnesota law require the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to prioritize public health, environmental justice, and racial equity when planning highway projects that run through designated environmental justice communities.

In 2023, the legislature passed a groundbreaking cumulative impacts law to protect marginalized communities from disproportionate pollution exposure. The law defines environmental justice areas and requires the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to conduct a rulemaking process to address the cumulative impacts of pollution during permitting processes for permitted facilities (i.e., a factory or trash incinerator). 

However, this new law does not apply to transportation projects, leaving one of the biggest sources of environmental injustice unaddressed.

Legislators must address this issue this session in one of two ways:

  • Expanding the existing cumulative impacts law to include major highway projects (as defined by project cost) that run through environmental justice communities. 
  • Creating a new regulation that requires the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to conduct a similar cumulative impacts process for major highway projects that run through environmental justice communities.

This law would add long-overdue protections for communities poisoned by transportation infrastructure. If it were determined that a MnDOT trunk highway project would have a disparate impact on surrounding residents, the agency would not be able to proceed until those impacts were remedied and a community benefits agreement was finalized.

Ask your legislators to protect environmental justice communities.

Take action and contact decision-makers.