Mar 27, 2024 - Transit

Advocates pitch replacing I-94 with a boulevard through the Twin Cities

A rendering of a tree-lined boulevard with black and red roadways running the length of it, with computer-generated mid- and high-rise buildings on the curbs.

A rendering of the proposed "Twin Cities boulevard" in Minneapolis' Cedar-Riverside neighborhood. The proposal calls for filling in the I-94 trench and replacing it with a broad, walkable, bikeable, and transit-oriented city street. Image courtesy Our Streets Minneapolis/Toole Design Group

Advocates have released a new report that pitches the total removal of the Interstate 94 freeway between Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Why it matters: MnDOT is currently developing a big master plan for the future of I-94, and the report could become fodder for that discussion.

The big picture: Transportation officials are weighing options that include something like the "Twin Cities boulevard" freeway replacement vision that advocacy group Our Streets Minneapolis is pitching.

What's inside: Most people use this part of the interstate for short, local trips. The report concluded that the existing street grid or new transit lines could handle those trips.

  • Removing the freeway would create new land for development, potentially adding $470 million in real estate market value and more than 2,000 new housing units, the authors project.
A computer animation showing an eight-lane freeway trench through a neighborhood that morphs into a rendering of tree-lined streets, apartment buildings, homes and a park that fill the length of the trench.
A rendering of the proposed Twin Cities boulevard through St. Paul's former Rondo neighborhood. Animation courtesy Our Streets Minneapolis/Toole Design Group

What they're saying: Replacing the freeway "is a political decision, not an engineering one," said Our Streets' Alex Burns, who told Axios "We can absolutely engineer and build this."

  • Burns said the metro's current transportation system discourages biking, walking, and transit use, and argued that fundamental changes would do more to combat climate change than any mode-shift PR campaign.
  • Removing I-94 could even ease congestion on north-south routes currently bottlenecked at the east-west freeway, the report argues.

Reality check: Removing the freeway would take years if not decades. It's "a generational project," Burns said.

The other side: "The pictures look nice, but if you look at the pictures, all the truck traffic is gone," said state Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) during a February hearing.

  • He and other skeptics worry removing I-94 would strangle commerce.
  • The report said freight accounts for less than 5% of I-94 traffic.

Friction point: This isn't the only big idea for the future of I-94.

  • St. Paul nonprofit ReConnect Rondo has worked for more than a decade on a plan to build a new park, housing, or commercial space over the freeway.
  • Burns said he agrees with the Rondo group's broader goal: restoring a historically Black neighborhood torn apart by I-94. He also thinks there are serious downsides to lidding the freeway.

What's next: Burns said Our Streets wants to use the report's renderings to conduct more outreach about their plans.

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