Urban Highway Removal in Minneapolis?

What are your thoughts? Is urban highway removal possible in the Twin Cities? If so, where?

In the Twin Cities, skyways have worked their way into the cultural vernacular probably more than was intended by their original designers. A few connections quickly turned into a culture of second level retail that eventually pulled retail away from the street; and whether we like it or not, skyways have become a staple of our urban culture. We have this contradictory relationship with them in the sense that we willingly accept their shortcomings, but can’t do anything about them. The psychology of previous investment hits home; it’s infrastructure that we’ve invested in! We can’t just throw it away? Can we?

Enter: the urban highway.

Cities across the country (and globe) have decided that  urban freeways could be turned into parks and development opportunities. In American urban planning circles, freeway destruction seems to be becoming ever more popular. TED talks have been dedicated to the topic. Butcan it be done in the Twin Cities?

If the Twin Cities were to rid themselves of one highway, what one would it be? Or, what segment of one highway could be removed?

I – 94:

While Interstate 94 through the core neighborhoods caused tremendous damage, it is a major artery that would probably be unwise to remove. Too many issues would arise from removing 94; both politically and economically. It is an interstate and would require the cooperation of the Federal government and problems of traffic re-routing would be difficult, if not impossible. Even if it were torn down, there might not be a good ROI in respect to the cost of a tear down. Unfortunately it appears as if we are stuck with 94 and its current alignment.

I – 35W/E:

Similar problems that arise with 94 are present here. 35W and 35E have turned into high-volume traffic corridors. However, a case could be made to re-route traffic from 35E between the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul on Shepard Road. Although this section of 35E could be turned into an amazing park and add associated development (to increase ROI), it might be difficult due to the topography.

I – 394: 

Like the others, difficulties present themselves in removing I394. Yet, there is one small segment that looks like a near-perfect candidate for removal:

There is a small stretch of 394 that leads into the Warehouse District (and into parking garages). Many options are available for this segment: parkland with bike path, development opportunities or a possible park/re-route of the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail. This section however, doesn’t have one thing that makes most urban highway tear downs successful: water.

It appears as if most all success urban highway removals add connectivity to waterfronts. This highway removal wouldn’t be adding that connection. Now, imagine how cool this could be if someone with graphic design skills could whip it up!

While I have limited this short analysis to the local interstate system, highways and other large roads could be candidates. What are your thoughts? Is urban highway removal possible in the Twin Cities? If so, where?

All responses are welcome! Let’s get the ball rolling on starting some dialogue on this topic.

33 thoughts on “Urban Highway Removal in Minneapolis?

  1. Reuben CollinsReuben Collins

    I'm not hopeful for any freeway removals in the Twin Cities any time in the near future. I don't see any indication that this is on MnDOT's radar at all. As you've mentioned, the I-394 spur is definitely the most logical location for a freeway removal in the TC, but I don't hear anybody talking about it – and definitely not MnDOT.

    Another logical option is the removal of the 3rd/4th street viaducts through the warehouse district. However, the last time I checked, the warehouse district local plans considered and rejected this idea (though, possibly only because the residents were told by one of the governing agencies that the idea was not feasible).

    The construction of the Central Corridor presented a very clear opportunity to clean up much of the mess on the east end of downtown where 3rd/4th streets take on freeway characteristics for a short distance. The City and MnDOT don't seem interested at all in removing this from the City and reconnecting the former street grid (reconnecting 4th Street would be difficult, but 3rd wouldn't be too difficult at all…, though still expensive).

    The rhetoric I'm hearing from MnDOT and other agencies (counties) is still primarily supportive of expanding the freeway network. We're still building TH 610, probably building TH 36 & the stillwater bridge. There are ongoing discussions about how to connect Ayd Mill Road to I-94. And there's definitely still discussion about how to fund the construction of new interchanges all along TH 55, TH 65, US 10, etc.

    1. Nathaniel M Hood

      "I’m not hopeful for any freeway removals in the Twin Cities any time in the near future." – Agreed.

      "Another logical option is the removal of the 3rd/4th street viaducts through the warehouse district." – Agreed.

      "The City and MnDOT don’t seem interested at all in removing this from the City and reconnecting the former street grid" – Agreed, but its something I think they should be considering.

      "The rhetoric I’m hearing from MnDOT and other agencies (counties) is still primarily supportive of expanding the freeway network." – This is very true. Knocking down a highway isn't even on their radar.

  2. Froggie

    I think a better candidate would be the ramps from 3rd/4th to I-94.

    As for I-394, it serves a big distributor function….but since it's largely below-grade, there's potential for air-rights development above it.

  3. aleks

    I know in general terms how highways have been used to segregate populations and destroy underprivileged communities but can anyone point me to good sources on what happened with 94?

    And you might as well tear out 394 since during rush hour it's slower than surface streets.

  4. Jeff Z

    In theory water could be brought into the equation if you look at the alignment of that section of 394 and Bassets creek just to the West, the creek could be brought back up to the surface in that alignment. It appears as though the creek emerges from its sub surface route and into the Mississippi River near 8th Av N so it would likely need some storm sewer work to get the creek back up to that alignment near Washington ave where it would need to go sub surface again unless 3rd ave was able to be converted as well.

  5. David LevinsonDavid Levinson

    Minneapolis is in the process of removing the "freeway" section of Washington Avenue on West Bank, so this is already being done. The rest of this would (3rd/4th West of I-35W) also seem a good candidate up to the Metrodome for removal.

    As for I-394. Air Rights is a really good use, and already there is the Twins Stadium and the ramps. But until you abolish the car, you will still need access to all the A,B,C parking ramps, and if not on this, I am not clear what.

    1. Nathaniel M Hood

      "Minneapolis is in the process of removing the “freeway” section of Washington Avenue on West Bank, so this is already being done." – Very good point. Something I overlooked.

      "But until you abolish the car, you will still need access to all the A,B,C parking ramps, and if not on this, I am not clear what." – Could this possibly be turned into a street? Possibly de-freeway the areas leading to the parking garages? However, I don't think this would be a good use of resources.

      1. Faith

        “But until you abolish the car, you will still need access to all the A,B,C parking ramps, and if not on this, I am not clear what.”

        The access to the A,B,C parking ramps is currently quite poor because the street grid was removed. It works when entering from 394 or 94 from the west, but they are difficult to reach when coming from any other direction. Throughout sporadic driving downtown in high school and college, I usually ended up on 394 westbound at some point because I couldn't figure out how to get into or out of the ABC ramps. The 3rd/4th Street approaches are far too close to the downtown grid and are confusing to drivers who want to go east, south or north and can't figure out how to turn around. The inability to circulate around the parking ramps makes them much less user-friendly from a driving perspective (to say nothing of anyone who would try to walk around them).

        Ramp B is particularly problematic because the downtown exit is on 5th Street where the LRT is located. That exit is closed on weekend nights to limit the cars trying to drive through the heart of the bar district – so the 394 Penn Avenue exit gets a long line of drivers turning around. This might happen during Twins games, but there is no way I would drive to game to find out.

  6. Moe

    How about 280? Removing it could better connect the St. Paul campus of the U with the main campus. Cleaning up the industrial and rail yards in the area could also better connect those areas.

  7. Scott F

    I've been waiting for someone to start this conversation. I moved to Minneapolis from DC 1.5 years ago, and was accustomed to a downtown core mostly without freeways (because activists in DC killed many of the proposed projects). So it was a bummer to come here and find that neighborhoods are so disconnected. The one I live in, Cedar-Riverside, feels like an island. Biking was very confusing at first because every few blocks I would hit some freeway and not be able to continue.

    As a recent arrival who bikes, I know little about the suburbs and the interstate system here. But based on a quick look at a map, what if I-94 east could follow I-35W north, then go east on what is now MN-36 through Roseville? Then I-94 between the downtowns could be removed, which seems a good option because the Central Corridor LRT will serve precisely that route.

    One of the reasons DC gets by with so few urban freeways is its comprehensive rail transit network. We don't have that, so more transit is probably a prerequisite for urban freeway removals to be considered. What I worry about, though, is that the capacity of our LRT (existing and under construction) may not be high enough to substitute for enough car trips to make this kind of change. We do however have a much larger percentage of people biking for transportation than in the DC area (or most of the nation for that matter), so that's an asset.

  8. Matt SteeleMatt

    Most of our freeways are below grade relative to the grid…. why not just cover up these trenches with parks or development on air rights? it would reconnect neighborhoods, be more politically palatable, cost less than full removal. http://g.co/maps/b69mm

  9. Sam NewbergSam Newberg (Joe Urb

    CNU promotes Higways to Boulevards – http://www.cnu.org/highways and has some very good examples. The 3rd and 4th Street collectors are perhaps most likely. I'm promoting taming Hiawatha – http://joe-urban.com/archive/the-urban-future-of-…. Faith raises a good point about the three parking ramps that 394 serves.

    The best example I've seen of a land bridge is the Cap at Union Station in Columbus, OH. http://www.cnu.org/resources/projects/cap-union-s… and http://casestudies.uli.org/casestudies/C035010.ht…. What realy helps is a lack of off-ramp at that location, so this could work well over I-94 between Loring Park and Stevens Square – perhaps Nicollet Avenue. There already is a land bridge over 394 – Target Plaza.

  10. Xan

    Third and Fourth Streets leading to the viaducts could be rerouted to connect to Olsen Hwy. Then those nasty viaducts through the warehouse area could go.

    If you look at the mess near the West Bank, reconnecting 3rd St there would make two of those ramps that serve 35W superfluous, opening up a lot of land. Since a lot of it is already dug out, it could be used for underground parking and built over, which would free up land now serving as surface parking.

    Covering the trenches need not be that expensive. You do not have to cover the entire thing. Take any block of land where a freeway passes below with no ramp (university @ 35W, university @ 280, nicollet @ 94, riverside @ 94, etc). If a structure is built on either side in the space than makes up the embankment, then the two structures could be connected by a multi-storied skyway like structure at street level that need only be about 50 ft deep, such that when walking or driving over the overpass, no one would even know they are passing over a freeway. Yes it would cost a little more to build, but that could at least be partially made up for by the fact that there would be no land cost for that section.

    As for 394, the access to the garages could be maintained underneath, but what messes everything up is the ramps that connect to the downtown streets. That is what causes the hump in the bridge that the LRT crosses. Notice the bus terminal right next to it has a flat floor. But the ramp exiting to 4th begins there so the LRT bridge hunches up for clearance. If that bridge were not there the LRT could stop where all the buses are stopped. LRT could also run through the 394 trench, there are stations there already, and use the MNPass lanes to go out to Ridgedale and beyond. That could carry a lot more people than the car pool lanes.

    I hope that made sense. It's hard to describe without pictures.

  11. Janne

    What about the whole zone of N 7th St and N Lyndale NW of 394? I'm thinking of N 7th St from Plymouth all the way into downtown, and Lyndale all the way from Plymouth south to where it splits from Hennepin.Getting Glenwood (including all of Olwon Memorial out to Theo Wirth) in on the game wouldn't hurt, either.

  12. Joe

    Lots of people jump on the 3rd/4th viaducts in the North Loop as an easy first choice. In theory, I agree, removing the barrier that splits the neighborhood in two would be fantastic. However, the analysis of this possibility in the North Loop Small Area Plan shows that it's a bit more complicated than simply removing them and placing them at grade (http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/www/groups/public/@cped/documents/webcontent/convert_274477.pdf – see page 68). The streets still need to make it over the historic rail trench and then back up to I-94 (if you assume that connection remains), the grades required to make this happen essentially would only get you 2-4 blocks of at grade crossings, and would then eliminate other opportunities for connecting the street grid under the new bridges. I'm not saying it can't or shouldn't happen, it's just not as easy of a project as some might think.

    1. Joe

      Just to make clear, if you remove the connections to DT and I-94, it's a totally different ballgame.

      1. Alex

        I'm not surprised that MnDot didn't spend much time on this one, but it's pretty dishonest of them to say it can't be done. They made the I-94 side hard to do with the existing insanely tall ramp, but if that were replaced with a ramp that intersected with Plymouth it would work fine. On the Cut side, it's true that replacing them with two bridges over the BNSF main and 394 a la 5th St would make it tough to run a street at the cut level. But if they were replaced with viaducts that jumped over the Cut from 2nd to 5th it would work just as well as the current alignments.

        Personally I favor repurposing one of the viaducts for transit and making the other reversible, but MnDot is wrong to say that removing them would be impossible or ineffective.

        1. Joe

          Again, just to clarify, these recommendations are not from MnDOT but from a City Council adopted policy document that identifies implementation priorities for the North Loop area. It's not that it would be impossible or ineffective to remove the 3rd/4th viaducts, my point was simply that it's much easier said than done. The transit concept is interesting, I don't think I've heard anyone suggest that before.

          1. Joe

            MnDOT was consulted, but the recommendation is mostly based on a combination of work by the consultant – and also public input that identified the concept of connecting under the viaducts as the more immediate priority.

          2. Alex BaumanAlex Bauman

            Well the public input is what really matters, although of course that is shaped by what the public is told. I can't help being curious though about who made the call that removing the viaducts would only free up 2-4 blocks.

    2. Xan

      "Viaduct? I don't know viaduct. Vy not a chicken?" – Chico Marx

      The viaducts problem is easy. After crossing the rail tracks they come back to grade at 5th and cut diagonally across the Shopco block and connect to 6th between the Incinerator and MetroTransit, which becomes Olson Hwy – 3rd into the right lane, 4th into the other. Olson goes over 94, so you have you connection there. The viaducts are just really long entrance and exit ramps that are completely unnecessary. This would free up an enormous amount of land between 10th Ave and 94 where the ramps now meet up with 94.

  13. Matt Brillhart

    What about Hwy. 7, east of Hwy. 100? Once Southwest LRT is running, I think this segment should be studied. Hwy. 7, from Hwy. 100 over to the "braid" with Minnetonka Blvd/Lake Street seems like it just has too much capacity. I would redesign the area so that eastbound thru-traffic would more inclined to take Hwy 100 to their destination, rather than adding to the already overburded Hennepin/Lake area to the east. This segment of Hwy. 7 currently is a 4-lane divided highway, plus 2-lane frontage roads on both sides, for a grand total of 8 lanes, plus various grassy inbetween areas. A quick Google measurement shows a massive 160' right-of-way. The intersecion of Hwy. 7 and Ottawa/Beltline Blvd is of particular interest because the future Beltline LRT station will sit just 600 feet away. There is a massive amount of land wasted by this particular intersection in what should become a pedestrian friendly area. I believe the only way to accomplish this change is to make Hwy. 7 NOT a highway, east of Hwy. 100. I guess the first step would be getting MNDOT to downgrade that portion to a county road.

  14. Eric

    Take out I-35W between 94 and 280. Traffic can route over 280 and 94 instead, as it did after the bridge fell. Adds only 1.5 miles to a trip through Minneapolis! Connect Cedar Riverside and the West Bank to Downtown, create a "Central Park" in the former 35W trench. New 35W bridge can become a pedestrian park across the river. Or place a 4-lane street in half of the old trench, create a great new connection between NE and S minneapolis.

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