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).

Adam Froehlig

About Adam Froehlig

Adam Froehlig, aka "Froggie", is a Minneapolis native who grew up studying the state's highways and bicycling the Minneapolis parkways and beyond. A retired US Navy sailor who worked as a meteorologist and GIS analyst, he is now losing himself among the hills and dirt roads of northern Vermont. He occasionally blogs at Just Up The Hill.