About a dozen people gather outside MnDOT's offices to advocate for I-94 freeway replacement.

Advocates Push MnDOT to Consider Replacing I-94 With Boulevard

Editor’s note: This story, which first appeared in MinnPost on June 20, has since been updated with comments from the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).

Our Streets hosted a Rethinking Interstate 94 rally on June 13 at MnDOT’s office in St. Paul that brought together a coalition of community members, activists and public officials advocating for transformative changes to the I-94 corridor. 

At the event, Yasmin Hirsi, advocacy coordinator at Our Streets, emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach that prioritizes community well-being and equitable infrastructure. Hirsi spoke of negative impacts that I-94 has on public health, neighborhood economies and social cohesion. She also read a statement from Minneapolis City Council member Robin Wonsley supporting the Twin Cities Boulevard project, which calls for a shift from car-centric infrastructure to investments in public transit, pedestrian and cycling-friendly alternatives. 

Yasmin Hirsi of Our Streets speaks into a microphone at a rally about the harms of Interstate 94.
At the event, Yasmin Hirsi, advocacy coordinator at Our Streets, emphasized the need for a comprehensive approach that prioritizes community well-being and equitable infrastructure. Photo: Maddie Gonzales

“I-94 runs through Ward 2, and my residents are some of those who bear the disproportionate impacts of the highway,” Hirsi read from Council Member Wonsley’s statement. “Our public health, our neighborhood economies and our social fabric are harmed every single day by the highway. That’s why I consistently supported the Twin Cities Boulevard and the vision for a multimodal corridor that invests in healthy, safe, equitable and thriving communities.”

A spokesperson with MnDOT told MinnPost via email that two of the proposed alternatives shared in 2023 included an at-grade roadway. “This alternative most resembles the so-called Twin Cities Boulevard concept promoted by Our Streets,” said MnDOT spokesperson Ricardo Lopez.

Segregation, Inequality, Displacement

The rally underscored the historical injustices associated with highway construction, particularly the displacement of low-income and minority communities. Hirsi drew parallels to the Civil Rights era, stressing that highway projects have long reinforced racial segregation and economic inequality by destroying neighborhoods and displacing families, particularly in Black and immigrant communities.

“True progress isn’t measured solely by the number of lanes or the speed of traffic but by the health, prosperity and equity of our communities,” Hirsi said.

Speakers at the rally also voiced their concerns about the current plans for the I-94 corridor. Nathan Kroschel from the I-94 Rail Coalition advocated for including a regional rail system in the project, emphasizing the unique opportunity to create a grade-separated transit corridor connecting the Twin Cities and beyond. 

Ahead of the June 13 rally, Streets.mn published a piece from Seth Bose advocating for the building of a rail system connecting the downtowns of Minneapolis and St. Paul. “MnDOT issued a Rethinking I-94 survey on the presented projects, with an optional write-in response. The number one write-in suggestion was rail, with a total of 359 responders out of roughly 3,500,” Bose wrote.

Community member Ted Ryan spoke of the inefficiencies and dangers of the current highway system, urging MnDOT to consider rail and bus rapid transit in the I-94 corridor. He argued that I-94, as it exists today, is an inefficient use of space and that expanded rail and bus transit would better serve the community.

“There are so many other opportunities for public transportation because we know that I-94 is not an efficient form of transportation. It’s an incredibly expensive form of transportation, it’s an incredibly dangerous form of transportation, and it doesn’t serve our people in the metro area well,” said Ryan.

Hirsi also expressed concerns about MnDOT’s current investments. “We did learn a few days ago that the current draft for the State Transportation Improvement Plan includes an $80 million investment being planned to go toward rehabilitating bridges along the I-94 corridor,” she said. “This $80 million investment toward the highway before any decision has been made about its future is really concerning. We don’t want this to be the reason they justify keeping this highway.”

I94 Traffic
Traffic on I-94 before COVID. Photo: Bill Lindeke (Streets.mn file)

MnDOT spokesman Lopez said the agency does not not yet have a cost estimate for any of the proposed ideas nor has funding been identified for construction while MnDOT evaluates alternative plans. “A preferred alternative will be identified later in the environmental review process,” Lopez wrote.

The rally concluded with a call to action for MnDOT to listen to the communities most impacted by the project. Hirsi urged for proactive anti-displacement policies and genuine community engagement in the decision-making process. Ryan echoed this sentiment, stressing the opportunity for a transformative change.

“The Reconnect Rondo [proposal], the Twin Cities Boulevard, the potential for rail or bus — there is a ton of space available for us to give back to the community,” Ryan said. “This could be the beginning of reparations for many of those communities. We should be demanding more, and this is an opportunity to do so.”

Lopez said public feedback through comment has been “incorporated into the Purpose and Need document, and helped shape the Livability Framework.”

“We appreciate the deep community interest and involvement as we work to plan the future of this vital corridor,” Lopez said in a statement to MinnPost. “MnDOT is considering a wide range of alternatives for the future of this corridor that were developed in partnership with federal, state and local governments, as well as countless technical experts and feedback from the community. In contrast to the original creation of Highway 94, MnDOT is committed to continuing with our community-based approach focused on reconnecting neighborhoods and ensuring community members have a meaningful voice in transportation decisions that affect their lives. We look forward to ongoing engagement from all members of the community as we continue planning for our future project.”

Thanks, MinnPost!

This article first appeared on MinnPost and is republished under a Creative Commons license.

About Maddie Gonzales

My name is Maddie Gonzales, and I'm proud to be from Houston, Texas. Currently, I am a Journalism student at the University of Missouri, set to graduate in Spring '25. I am thrilled to be working as an audience development and reporting intern with MinnPost. I am passionate about telling stories that inform and engage the community, and I look forward to reporting on the diverse and vibrant stories around the city in the future!