Minneapolis Via Creative Commons

Put a Lid on It?

There’s quite a bit of chitter-chatter about lidding the I35W interstate through Cedar-Riverside, coming out of downtown. First, the Star-Tribune wrote about it. Then Charlie Zelle mentioned it at Policy & A Pint on January 16:

(Naturally, streets.mn got in on this conversation far earlier.)

Practical discussion of freeway lidding in Minneapolis is still in very early stages — no funding estimates, no operational plans, no legitimate proposals. But there are things we do know:

  • Lidding an expressway is expensive, with highly variable costs per mile/acre.
  • Many cities are using them primarily as parkland and public space. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love public space — but parks are a cost for cities, and only rarely a net revenue gain.

Let’s face it: Building is sexier than maintaining. Just look at the St. Croix River Bridge debacle, where Minnesota and Wisconsin are spending $675 million to build a controversial bridge to carry  total cost estimate is $580 million for a bridge that carries roughly 15,000 vehicles/day. Meanwhile, core Minnesota infrastructure is crumbling:

The idea of a lid is somewhat enticing. When we look at images of what highway construction did to Minneapolis and St. Paul, we can easily see how neighborhoods were split apart. The Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma have an interactive look at Minneapolis as highways cut it apart. A lid provides a way to bring neighborhoods back together, with walking space. At the same time, lidding freeways also has a near-dystopian element, closing people away from the sunlight to create high-priced real estate.

Various sources point out that some of the construction costs of freeway lids can be cobbled together from local, state and federal funds, as well as the rights to develop on the “land” thusly created, with resulting tax base improvements. Obviously, this relies on actual development occurring, versus the creation of parkland. Even when construction is federally or state funded, landscaping of park spaces often falls to the city — Phoenix spent $5 million landscaping Hance Park. Some improvements on a lid in Cincinnati were financed by that city’s NFL team. Wikipedia offers a partial list of “structures built atop freeways” for inspiration.

Lidding I35W from downtown to U of M would likely cost more than the new St. Croix Bridge. Is funding this realistic in the current environment? What ideas do you have about freeway lids?

About Julie Kosbab

Julie Kosbab is an online marketing consultant and active transportation advocate living in Anoka County, Minnesota. She was one of Minnesota's only League of American Bicyclists Certified Instructors when certified in 2005, and is no longer lonely in that calling. A past member of the National Bicycle Tour Directors Association, she has 2 children and a garage full of bicycles. Find her on Twitter as @betweenstations, or read her (seldom updated) blog at Ride Boldly!