A sign warning that the "air is poor" near I-94.

Investing in Highway Bridges Could Mean I-94 Is Forever

Each year, the Metropolitan Council selects Twin Cities-area transportation projects to be included in a four-year planning document that forms the metro area’s contribution to Minnesota’s statewide federal transportation funding request. The Twin Cities regional document is known as the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The statewide document that the TIP is folded into is known as the State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP. 

Transportation projects listed in the STIP are likely to receive federal funds that cover most of their costs, typically 80 percent. Remaining costs are funded by cities, counties, the state or other entities to meet federal matching requirements.

The draft 2025-2028 Twin Cities Metro TIP lists seven bridges that span I-94 for rehabilitation or repair. All of the bridges fall within or very near the 7.5-mile “Rethinking I-94” project area between Highway 55 in Minneapolis and Marion Street in St. Paul.

Take action! Public comments on the plan are open. Share your thoughts in writing about this project and any others in the draft TIP by 5 p.m. on Monday, July 1.

MnDOT’s Premature Steps

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is now in its eighth year of public engagement on the Rethinking I-94 project and is developing and assessing project alternatives. One or more selected alternatives will advance to the planning stage over approximately the next two years, with selection of a final alternative, engineering, funding and construction following closely thereafter.

Among the 10 current I-94 alternatives are options that would change nothing about the existing highway footprint, options that would remove the below-grade trench and highway (potentially for an at-grade boulevard), and, believe it or not, even options to increase lanes and expand the highway overall. Community members have asked MnDOT for further alternatives, including one that includes regional rail.

This is critical: The seven bridges proposed in the TIP must be removed from the document until a final project alternative is selected and the future of I-94 is determined.

Looking eastbound toward the Riverside Avenue Bridge over I-94 in Minneapolis. Image: Our Streets

Selecting seven bridges for repair or rehabilitation in advance of picking the final I-94 project alternative flagrantly and unwisely tips public and engineering sentiment toward rebuilding the highway to justify the sunk cost of the improved bridges. This premature action also has the potential to limit project alternatives, in part by influencing their designs based on the size, location and contours of existing bridges. Furthermore, it may be construed as violating the intent of the environmental impact statement (EIS) process.

Isn’t it Important to Maintain Bridges?

It would be a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars and other public resources to schedule bridge repair or rehabilitation prior to selection of a final I-94 project alternative, only to have the bridges removed or substantially altered when the project is built in a few years. According to what we can surmise from the draft TIP, the expected price tag for this round of proposed bridge work is close to $20 million.

A piece of the collapsed I-35W bridge from the 2007 tragedy rests on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas. Photo: Mary Morse Marti

To be clear, the draft TIP shows no indication that any of the bridges are in critical condition or otherwise in imminent danger of failing due to lack of maintenance. The majority are listed in fair or satisfactory condition (except the Riverside Avenue bridge, which is listed as structurally deficient). We have the time to do this properly.

The Rethinking I-94 project affects hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans. The racial, social, public health, transportation and economic inequities caused by the highway are well documented. Emissions from highway traffic are known to cause lung and heart disease and cancer. Noise from the highway is a growing concern for dementia. Enormous public investments in highway bridge infrastructure now risk sealing these dangers in place for the next three generations.

Planned improvements to the bridges that cross I-94 between Minneapolis and St. Paul may mean the highway’s harms continue for decades. Photo: Mary Morse Marti

Submit a Written Comment on the TIP

Review the draft TIP and offer written comments to the Met Council’s Transportation Advisory Board by 5 p.m. on Monday, July 1. You can also email MnDOT’s Metro District Engineer Khani Sahebjam about this issue at [email protected].

Mary Morse Marti

About Mary Morse Marti

Mary is the former executive director of Move Minneapolis, an original founder of HOURCAR, and a writer and book author (Wonderful Without Religion, Women Changing Science) based in the Twin Cities.