FMR weighs in on freeway expansion near river

by Colleen O'Connor Toberman

This excerpt from the Minnesota Department of Transportation's project plan shows how close this proposed freeway expansion is to the Mississippi River. (See full screen.)

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) is proposing a redesign of Interstate 94 and Highway 252 through North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.

This project would convert Highway 252 from a highway to a freeway, eliminating stoplights and intersections that pose serious safety problems. In addition, the project would add a MnPASS lane, or "carpool lane," to I-94.

Residents raise questions

Local residents and advocates have come to FMR with questions about several aspects of this project. The first concern is that the Highway 252 conversion would require adding an elevated interchange at 66th Avenue in Brooklyn Center.

Part of this new infrastructure would fall within the Mississippi River Corridor Critical Area and could impact the river, its wildlife and its users.

The nature of the I-94 expansion also raises concerns because the project would not include improved transit amenities like bus rapid transit. High-quality transit is critical to combatting climate change. (And many freeway expansions fail to reduce congestion or vehicle emissions due to the phenomenon of induced demand.)

In addition, high-quality transit provides mobility and economic opportunity, which is especially crucial in lower-income communities such as North Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) on this segment of I-94 has already been studied and deemed as having high potential to provide mobility benefits to residents of color and a transit-reliant population, as well as access to forecasted development and employment growth. BRT would serve the Upper Harbor Terminal site, which is currently slated for high-density redevelopment but lacks a plan for transit access. 

FMR's recommendations

FMR has had many meetings and conversations with residents and advocates throughout the project corridor. After assessing the proposed project, we submitted a letter to MnDOT and elected officials recommending the following:

  • The proposed project should undergo a thorough environmental assessment before proceeding. The assessment should consider impacts on the Mississippi River and on the people, plants and animals who depend on the river’s health and vitality. Areas of study should include air quality, water quality and stormwater management, wildlife impacts, traffic noise and views from the river.
  • Strong mitigation strategies should be implemented for any negative impacts to the Mississippi River or the Critical Area.
  • MnDOT should reconsider locating the 66th Avenue interchange further north on Highway 252, where it would be further from river.
  • The project should enhance bicycle and pedestrian amenities on the Mississippi River Trail and surrounding streets. Cyclist and pedestrian safety should be a top priority.
  • The project should include high-frequency transit, including bus rapid transit or BRT on I-94. 

You can read FMR's full letter here.

We'll share updates about this proposed project as they become available.

Advocate for the river!

As this project progresses, we might need to call in our River Guardians. Become a River Guardian today treceive emails from us when opportunities to advocate for riverfront development and other river-related issues arise, plus invitations to educational happy hours.

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