The Missing Link

Though the automobile-highway system is mature, and we will not be building any significant mileage of new highways in the Twin Cities, does that mean we should build none?

Connectivity is important, more connected cities are more efficient (at least to a point) from a transportation and economic productivity perspective.

When I was young and imagined becoming a planner, I believed planning was about drawing lines on maps (i.e. creating plans). Of course you could not just put them anywhere, you had to finesse constraints (budgets, the built environment, the natural environment, and so on). But I liked drawing lines on maps, connecting A to B, finishing the unbuilt. I later learned planning was not nearly so fun.

The reason we have now reached the unfun stage of line-drawing is probably that all the “good lines” (and some bad ones) have already been built. If the political and economic benefit:cost ratio were high, someone already did it. If the ratio were low, no one did, and no one would.

Yet there may be some remainders, perhaps projects with good ratios that somehow went missing. Over my time in the Twin Cities, I have seen reference to the following. I am not suggesting any of the links below have B:C ratios above 1, just that some people believe they do. The number of possible links is enormous (and in some senses infinite, but in practical terms, simply very large).


There are two significant new freeway sections proposed for the Twin Cities:

  • Stillwater Bridge – Many cuttlefish have died discussing this facility, and I will say no more here.
  • Mn 610 – This route north of Maple Grove does not yet connect to I-94, as has been planned since at least the 1960s.
Missing Freeway-Freeway Ramps
  • It is well known by locals you cannot travel directly on I-94 Westbound and go to I-35W Northbound, or from I-35 SB to I-94 EB. (Mn 280 will get you there.)
  • It is similarly well known you cannot go from I-94 EB to I-35E SB, or from I-35E NB to I-94 WB. (Ayd Mill Road does not quite serve the purpose).
  • The new I-494 US-169 interchange will also miss some ramps.

    For example, if you’re headed south on 169, there will not be an exit to go west towards Eden Prairie on 494.

    Additionally, if you’re headed east on 494, there will not be a ramp that takes you north on 169.

    “Highway 212 to the west is what motorists tend to use to make those movements,” explained Grand.

Water Crossings
  • North of the Twin Cities a new Mississippi River crossing has been proposed by MnDOT to connect US 10 with I-94.
Railroad Crossings
  • The Grand Rounds is the name for the Parkway system in Minneapolis, Southeast and Northeast are not yet connected, but proposals to do so have been put forward, and would upgrade 27th Avenue and extend across the railroad tracks to Industrial Blvd.
  • Just to the west of that, Oak Street Extended would also cross the same railroad tracks. This is discussed in the plans for SEMI, which also discuss Granary Road and the east RR crossing that would become part of the Grand Rounds.
  • Van White Boulevard a road extension that will in which “two bridges that will carry the boulevard over two sets of railroad tracks, a city public works yard and the Cedar Lake Trail.”
  • E River Pkwy extension from the University of Minnesota to St. Anthony Main.
Freeway Crossings: Griddus Interruptus

The freeway system in the Cities did a number on the existing grid network. For instance on I-94 between Lexington and Snelling Avenues, the city grid (N-S) includes the following streets (Lexington, Dunlap, Griggs, Syndicate, Hamline, Albert, Pascal, Simpson, Asbury, and Snelling (~ 10 streets per mile)). Only Snelling, Pascal, Hamline, and Lexington actually cross I-94. (There is also a pedestrian bridge at Griggs.) Similar patterns on the other freeways can be found.

This pattern is typical on the trenched freeway system crossing the old urban grid, and would be different had the freeways been either tunneled or elevated.

Building Crossings
  • Nicollet Avenue is interrupted by an undistinguished K-mart at Lake Street. The city hopes to restore Nicollet to its original glory.
New Semi-separated Roads
  • Granary Road (sometimes Granary Parkway or Dinkytown Road) would run in the famous Dinkytown Trench and connect the St. Anthony Main area with the SEMI redevelopment area. It could provide major relief to University Avenue (and potentially allow University and Fourth to be restored to two-way traffic. It is still under discussion.
  • Ayd Mill Road has been proposed for many years to extend to I-94. This aims to solve one of the missing freeway connection problems (I-35E N to I-94W). It is opposed by neighbors.
  • Pierce Butler Route is an east-west route in St. Paul just south of the Railroad tracks. There are proposals to extend it to the east and discussions (mostly negative) about the idea to extend it to the west to Mn 280, though extending from Transfer Road to Vandalia may be possible.
Land Crossings: Griddus Nobuildus

The suburbs in Greater>>MSP have largely retained the 1 mile spacing from the original rural grid, but the interior grid, which gives block spacings of on the order of 0.1 miles in the Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul (and many first ring suburbs such as Richfield and Bloomington) is nonexistent outer ring suburbs like Woodbury or Eden Prairie. Some suburban blocks are transected, others remain much more naturalistic in their form (though, to be fair, there are apparently rules about interconnectivity, so that most suburban homeowners have multiple paths to the arterial network and I have not seen a full square mile block as a pure tree or multiple pure trees). As the built density is lower than in the Cities, one would not expect the same street density, but the connectivity is lower than the density would suggest.


N.B. I have not seen a complete catalog of Missing Links for the Twin Cities. (Adam Froehlig has a great resource here that you should look at if you are interested in the topic, including details on cancelled projects, as well as other fantasy routes.) This list is not complete either, but will serve as a starter.

Please add other items of seriously proposed and not canceled routes (with references) in the comments. Fantasy lines are welcome too, but please label as such.

Caveat: This post is descriptive, it describes some missing links in the Greater>>MSP street network. It does not suggest any or all should be built, though I encourage debate on that in the comments.

Caveat 2: This post does not cover upgrades, links that exist but might be “improved” (widened, grade separated, etc.) or realignments.

8 thoughts on “The Missing Link

  1. Mike Hicks

    I wouldn't quite call the SB 169 to WB 494 movement "missing", since it'll be possible to do it by going through a single roundabout. The opposite opposite movement does seem to be legitimately absent, however (EB 494 to NB 169).

    In general, I like the idea of making something connect across the tracks in Minneapolis somewhere between 15th Ave SE and MN-280 — I used to live at University Village and always felt a bit constricted since there wasn't much to go to either north or south. But, at the same time, the concepts I've seen mostly seem to assume that the rail yard area will shrink. It has shrunk quite a bit over the years as rail networks got more optimized and as the grain elevators in the area dropped out of business, but I'm not sure if we can expect the rails to continue to disappear.

    Oh well, that mostly just affects the scale of whatever bridge gets built. I'm sure people living in the Como neighborhood have also felt similarly constrained by industry on the north and rails on the south.

    On the subject of rail crossings, there's also a big need for more ways to get across the tracks in Saint Paul. While I-94 did do a significant amount of damage to the grid in the city, it's actually one of the better examples in our region, and has much better connectivity across it than the rails do. It's well over a mile between Raymond Avenue and Snelling Avenue, and there are mile-long gaps between Snelling and Lexington and Dale and Rice. I'm a bit more concerned about bike/pedestrian connections rather than additional roads, though.

    I'm a bit more interested these days in the idea of small-scale connectivity. I'd really like to see a couple of existing blocks get built up densely and broken up into smaller pieces, with a focus on making a really stellar pedestrian environment. In many redevelopment efforts since WWII, block sizes have tended to grow larger and larger, but I feel there's probably more value in breaking up blocks into smaller sizes (as long as the streets are scaled to be fairly narrow in most cases).

    In an over-the-top example, the super-dense enclave of the Kowloon Walled City (which got torn down in Hong Kong in the '90s) housed 30,000+ people plus businesses, a central courtyard, and small restaurants in an area of 7 or 8 acres, roughly the same size as a standard "long block" in Minneapolis — also about the same size as the hole in the center of the Mall of America which houses the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park (formerly Camp Snoopy). It had an extensive internal network of streets and alleys to allow people to move around, plus there were staircases and other informal connections at higher levels in the complex.

    In contrast, we tend to build very monolithic structures here. For example, the Longfellow Station TOD project on Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis may end up with a building that is 900 feet long. Not really the best way to build transit-oriented development, if you ask me (which really should be pedestrian-oriented development that happens to be near a station).

    1. Alex

      I believe I heard subsequently that there was a typo in the site plan for Longfellow Station, so the building will not be 900 ft but probably more like 500? I can't find a source/confirmation, though. I guess I should correct my post, especially since the original source files are dead too. There's more than one type of broken link…

      1. Mike Hicks

        Here's the redevelopment plan. If I measure the parcel area correctly, the main chunk of it (ignoring the driveway extending down to 40th Street) is 900 feet long, though it looks like there are some significant setbacks from both the north and south ends of the building. It still seems like the building itself will be about 700 feet (partly because the parcel is at an angle).

  2. David KingDavid King

    Here in NYC the long forgotten X Line has recently been re-proposed, and re-shot down. I won't comment about the BCA but it would be an excellent connection within the existing network.
    Connecting boroughs to others that are not Manhattan is certainly a missing link here.

    (I know this is off the MN part of, but thought it may be of interest)

  3. David LevinsonDavid Levinson

    @Mulad, I agree with the need for RR-crossings in St. Paul, I have not seen any proposals for those though. Does any official proposal exist, aside from speculations?

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