Map of the Day: 1957 I-94 Proposal for Lowry Hill

Much has been written over the past year on the upcoming reconstruction of the Hennepin/Lyndale commons area just outside downtown Minneapolis, to be done later this year. Today’s Map of the Day looks back at the proposal for I-94 in the commons area from 1957. It comes from the study report “Freeways in Minnneapolis” conducted by George W Barton and Associates and dated January, 1957. This report was the first comprehensive study on freeways in the city of Minneapolis following passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956, which created the funding mechanism for constructing the nation’s Interstate highway system.

The I-94 proposal for the Lowry Hill area from 1957.  Image from the study "Freeways in Minneapolis".

The I-94 proposal for the Lowry Hill area from 1957. Image from the study “Freeways in Minneapolis”.

There are a number of noticeable differences between this proposal and today’s tunnel. First and foremost, there was no tunnel proposed in 1957. The Highway Department’s official plan called for I-94 to be below-grade through the curve, then shift to above-grade on fill north of Groveland, bridging over both Vineland/15th and Kenwood Pkwy (which extended to Hennepin Ave at the time). This would result in no access across the freeway between northbound Lyndale and Vineland/15th.

Even at the time (and noted in the study), the prospect of an above-grade freeway in front of the Walker, Saint Mark’s, and 510 Groveland was not appealing, and so the highway department came up with an alternative profile. The alternative profile kept the freeway below-grade for a longer distance, coming to grade in front of the Walker and Saint Mark’s (versus being 15-18ft above-grade at that spot in the original proposal). The alternative profile allowed for bridges over the freeway at Douglas Ave and at Groveland, but would have prevented access at Vineland/15th and still would have been elevated above Kenwood Pkwy.

Another noticeable difference is the number and location of freeway ramps. This proposal had more ramps overall, with more direct ramps through the Bottleneck portion, allowing Hennepin and Lyndale traffic to avoid the signals at Vineland/15th. Access to/from the south and east was also radically different, with the Highway Department proposing a set of ramps connecting to an extension of Dell Place that would pass underneath Ridgewood Ave and connect to Franklin Ave halfway between Garfield and Harriet. The freeway study noted the desirability of having an urban residential neighborhood close to downtown north of Franklin and east of Lyndale, and recommended that the Highway Department design ramps that had more direct connections to Lyndale.

Though not as noticeable, this proposal would have had a 2-way section on today’s northbound side of Hennepin between Kenwood Pkwy and Harmon Place.

While the alignment is more or less along what was constructed, the 1957 plan was dropped in favor of a tunnel proposal by 1960, though it would be another decade before the tunnel got built (opening in late 1971).


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5 Responses to Map of the Day: 1957 I-94 Proposal for Lowry Hill

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary April 21, 2015 at 3:53 pm #

    Thanks for posting this!

    I think one of the most interesting things in here is just how low the traffic volumes are, even though they’re projected out for 1970 (and presumably anticipating real growth). 50,000 cars a day, about a third of what was going through as of 2013.

    It makes me wonder what traffic volumes they had in mind for other area freeways back then.

    • Sam Newberg
      Sam Newberg April 22, 2015 at 10:20 am #

      Maybe we’re “misunderestimating” future traffic growth projections today as well!

      • Wayne April 22, 2015 at 10:57 am #

        I think that pendulum swung way too far in the other direction.

  2. David Markle April 22, 2015 at 11:49 am #

    The trough cut through Lowry Hill was a major change in the Minneapolis landscape. From today’s perspective, it’s interesting that the excavation revealed a very large deposit of high quality fine white sand, the kind movie theaters used to put in the big lobby ashtrays. I suspect the sand would be great for fracking. I used some of it to fill large loudspeaker cabinet panels. For reasonable portability the three vertical panels of those corner cabinets were separate structures, held together by machine bolts and tee nuts.

    • David Markle
      David Markle April 22, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

      And in those days when freeway construction cut their way through other Twin Cities neighborhoods as well, Otto Silha stood out as one calling for mass transit instead of urban freeways. Silha, still remembered as a visionary newspaper publisher and executive, continued to voice his concern about transit for many years.