Map Monday: Potential Lost Land Value in Minneapolis due to Freeways

Via Strong Towns, here’s an interesting map that purports to show how much Minneapolis land value was “lost” due to the replacing of dense urban land with non-taxpaying freeway infrastructure.

As you have probably noticed, now that 35W and other interstate trenches are under construction, multi-lane urban freeways and onramps take up a lot of potentially valuable urban land. Using an anlaysis of per-acre tax value, a consulting firm named Urban3 looked at the freeways near central Minneapolis and came up with a rough estimate for the opportunity cost of these freeways.

Here’s the map:

Minneapolis Lost Value Map

There’s also a somewhat difficult to read interactive slider map that lets you see the potential and actual land values in central Minneapolis.

Here’s what the article, by Connor Nielsen states about the analysis:

Using a set of historic maps, he discovered the block pattern that once existed where seven square miles of highways now run through downtown.

He then mapped the highway onto the streetcar map to determine which blocks were bulldozed to make way for the highway’s construction. The slider map below zooms in on the I-94 and I-35W interchange area, first with the highway, and then replaced by modern value per acre estimates for the blocks that were demolished.

Projecting present-day values of neighboring parcels onto the missing blocks suggests that the highway eliminated buildings that would be worth at least $655 million today. This estimate is conservative because the neighboring parcels that these estimates are based on would likely be higher themselves if they abutted similar blocks rather than a large highway. Urban3 estimates the loss of billions of dollars in tax producing real estate value over several decades.

This kind of study is a lot like the back-of-the-napkin estimate that Alex Cecchini did back in 2014 about how 35W affected home values in South Minneapolis.

In both cases, the conclusion is clear. Putting freeways through the center of Minneapolis, and bulldozing thousands of homes and eradicating urban blocks, cost the city a ton in otherwise taxable land.

25 thoughts on “Map Monday: Potential Lost Land Value in Minneapolis due to Freeways

  1. Bob Roscoe

    Visit Vancouver and you will see its center giving enough auto access without freeways, that stop at city limits. Several decades ago the city put this issue to a vote and the citizens decided no freeways. Several somewhat wide arterials handle traffic nicely.

      1. BTSP

        Even with Toronto, if you look at only the old pre-amalgation boundaries, there’s really only the Don Valley Parkway and the Gardiner Expressway that goes through the city. Granted, the Gardiner is pretty awful for cutting off the lakeside from the rest of the city. And, had the planned Spadina Expressway been built, then the neighborhoods west of downtown would have been sliced off too.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    The most egregious freeway real estate in Minnesota *today* is the 3rd and 4th St. ramps that cut the North Loop in half. Removing those ramps should be a priority for the city and MnDOT.

    It also ought to be the most politically palatable way to reduce Minneapolis’ highway footbrint. Everyone can see that the land occupied by those ramps would otherwise be extremely valuable land. Removing them wouldn’t eliminate a connection, just force northbound commuters to drive through the North Loop, instead of speeding on a viaduct over it. Finally, removing the ramps and restoring the surface streets would cost significantly less than building a highway cap elsewhere.

    I don’t understand why there isn’t more pressure and discussion about removing those ramps. It’s the low hanging fruit of the entire MSP freeway system.

      1. Joe

        The street’s are already there! 4th St runs right alongside the viaduct. You could tear them down, and there’d be space for at least 13 more apartment buildings (or whatever people choose to build there).

    1. Nick

      I think that removing ‘functioning’ infrastructure is a hard sell in the current political climate. However, at some point those bridges are going to need reconstruction (maybe sooner than we think) and that price tag will be pretty high.

      Minneapolis needs policy-makers and public works staff to start putting together options for removing those ramps now so that they can present a “no-brainer” solution that makes a better neighborhood, builds property value, and reduces the cost of the freeway ‘reconstruction’ at the same time. That money savings will have to be a major talking point to get the traditionally conservative pro-road folks to at least listen (and hopefully the economics are compelling enough that they acquiesce). If we wait until MNDOT comes up with their plan to replace the bridges with like it will be too late.

      1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

        Yep. That’s how the process would work. When MNDOT starts planning ahead for replacing the viaduct, it helps if neighbors and local decision makers are already on board for removal, especially if there is a published plan supporting that option.

  3. Mike

    is it fair to assume that this land, had it not been taken for the highway would have been developed in addition to what we already have developed to a commensurate level? Would the total current value of downtown just be spread across a larger geography?

  4. Bob Roscoe

    Istanbul, Turkey is my favorite world city. And its most sublime work of architecture is the former Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia, now a mosque. In my first visit, the labyrinth of narrow streets were crowded with people and cars made their way at their drivers’ fright. Two years ago on my second return visit, those same narrow streets now were choked with cars, as pedestrians moved about at their own risk.

  5. Brian

    How much land would the arterial streets required to move vehicles into and out of downtown take up?

    How do you not end up with residential streets plugged with through traffic? Someone going from Arden Hills to Bloomington is not going drive around the entire 694/494 loop to get to Bloomington. They are going to cut through Minneapolis one way or the other.

    1. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

      You assume there would be the same volume of vehicles and pattern of trips had the highways not been built. But that’s an impossible hypothetical.

      The highways are the reason there is such a high volume of cars and that people live in such far-flung towns. Towns like Arden Hills would be significantly smaller than they are today had major road infrastructure not been built to serve them. Had highways not cut through Minneapolis, few people would even consider regularly traveling from Arden Hills to Bloomington in the first place.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      “Someone going from Arden Hills to Bloomington is not going drive around the entire 694/494 loop to get to Bloomington.”

      They aren’t? Google’s estimated travel time right now, from the Lake Johanna boat launch to MOA (just picked a place in Arden Hills and one in Bloomington) is about ten minutes slower via the 694/494 loop than via 35W. That’s got to be competitive with surface streets, were there no 35W.

      But as Alex says, the comparison requires thinking about how not having a freeway through the city would change a wide variety of different incentives and decisions.

      1. Brian

        694 and 35W to 494 and 35W is 18 miles. Going either direction on 694 on the loop adds 18 miles to the trip or double. Most wouldn’t make the trip unless absolutely required for work or something if they had to drive that far out of the way. There is also 35E, but that wouldn’t probably wouldn’t exist either if removing highways going through cities.

        You find a bus that goes from New Brighton to Bloomington, but that bus route would be an all day trip without 35W.

  6. Shawn

    “In both cases, the conclusion is clear. Putting freeways through the center of Minneapolis, and bulldozing thousands of homes and eradicating urban blocks, cost the city a ton in otherwise taxable land.”

    Would there be as much development downtown without freeways connecting to it?

    It was mentioned abouve that Canada has done well without highways downtown, but do they have the same density and value-per-acre?

    I don’t think the conclusion is clear until these variables can be controlled for.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      That’s pretty much impossible to say, except that not having freeways in the center of the city would have radically changed downtown Minneapolis. There are certainly many many cities around the world that have high-value land in the center city without having spatially massive freeways cutting through them. Most of these examples are NOT in the United States, but there are some high-profile cases of downtowns that rejected urban freeways (Boston, NY) and how that has played out.

      The point of both these analyses is to try to put a very rough price tag on the “lost value” of these spaces that have been, today, taken for granted as being “worthless”.

      1. Shawn

        I understand the goal here. However, while it’s interesting to compute or estimate what that land *could* be worth, it is truly not possible to say what might have been.

        I’d imagine we wouldn’t have such high-rise buildings (and density) as we do today because our infrastructure moved away from mass transit before those buildings arose. I suspect we’d have less height, probably more spread out, and more uniform. A functional mass-transportation network would allow for more density around the lines, however. Should that be an input into the density model? If we didn’t have roads, we likely would have invested in something else by now.

        My point is that such studies and analysis, while interesting, must be taken with a grain of salt. The 655M lost to roads might have enabled Billions in development.

    2. BTSP

      The city of Vancouver has a population of over 600,000 in 44 or so square miles. Minneapolis has over 400,000 in 58.4 square miles. I don’t know the value-per-acre of either city, but given housing costs in Vancouver, I would imagine that it’s higher.

  7. scott

    The proposed Minneapolis 2040 Comprehensive Plan barely acknowledges the freeways (or the 55/ Hiawatha/ Olson divided highway) and the effects they had and continue to have on the city. Even this ‘progressive’ plan cannot conceive of removing or scaling back such infrastructure- even by 2040.

    I vote to disconnect I-394 from Washington Avenue forcing motorists to enter/ exit further south. That land would be similarly valuable to the area under the 3rd & 4th Ave viaducts.

    1. Brian

      Minneapolis is smart to not consider highway removal any time in the near future unless they come up with some very good transportation alternatives. No employees would want to come downtown to work without buses or a car to get them there. It would take buses several times longer to get downtown with no highways.

      Vancouver has no freeways in city boundaries, but they have a six load road that is a highway plus several other large roads. They also have insane housing costs while having a low median wage. Most workers do not live in the city because they can’t afford it.

      1. Scott

        I don’t think anyone is proposing complete removal of the freeways. Rather I’m suggesting there should be at least some conversation about scaling them back and making them less horrible as they dump into and divide neighborhoods.

        What about the forthcoming $4 billion Blue & Green Line extensions? The Northstar line is severely underutilized. There are other ways to get around besides a personal vehicle- especially going into downtown Minneapolis.

        1. Brian

          We’ll never see rail along 35W north of downtown unless the legislature has a change of heart. I take the express bus into downtown from Blaine. Without 35W being there a ride into downtown would take at least double the time it does today.

          I actually prefer bus service because light rail service would take twice as long since light rail stops every mile or so.

          If MNDOT and the City of Minneapolis decided to remove 35W I would probably end up moving out of state for a job. There would be a lot of people looking for new jobs outside of downtown so it would probably be hard to find another job locally.

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