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With changes on the horizon, should MnDOT be 'Rethinking I-94' or remove it altogether?

A local non-profit is pushing MnDOT to consider a fundamental change to a major stretch of road in the Twin Cities.

MINNEAPOLIS — In the coming months, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) will unveil options for transforming a busy stretch of I-94 that connects the Twin Cities, but a Minneapolis non-profit says the only way to truly connect neighborhoods is to remove the interstate altogether.

Our Streets Minneapolis is collecting online signatures for a Twin Cities Boulevard Petition, which advocates for filling in a 7.5 mile stretch of I-94 from Minneapolis to St. Paul. A more traditional boulevard would take it's place, connecting cars directly to the neighborhood traffic grid, while also giving room for dedicated transit, bike and pedestrian use.

"It would be a massive undertaking and whether or not it's going to happen, it would be an interesting addition to the menu of options," said Frederick Melo, St Paul reporter for the Pioneer Press, who detailed the plan – and reaction to it – in a recent story. "There's plenty of discussion to be had about what that traffic impact would be."

Though it's unclear whether MnDOT will include – or even consider – the Twin Cities Boulevard Petition in it's eventual proposals for I-94, one of the stated goals of MnDOT's "Rethinking I-94" project is "focused on reconnecting neighborhoods, revitalizing communities and ensuring residents have a meaningful voice" in a transportation decision that will affect their lives. 

"There's about 160,000 cars that travel I-94 in each direction through the Twin Cities daily, so you're talking about a decision that impacts a lot of commuters – a lot of commerce – but a lot of residents too," Melo said. "That seems to be what MNDOT is acknowledging got left out in the 1960's. This interstate was built right through people's living rooms."

RELATED: Historically Black Rondo neighborhood, ripped apart by I-94, has hope for a reunion

Melo says the St. Paul city council and mayor Melvin Carter have urged MNDOT to avoid any plan to would simply add traffic lanes to I-94, but there is no consensus behind the idea of a Twin Cities Boulevard to take it's place.

"I spoke to one city council member, Mitra Jalali, so far here in St. Paul who said, let's just elevate that as a discussion point," Melo said. "I also spoke to another city council member, Dai Thao, who also represents these neighborhoods along the interstate who said, no, we need to redevelop sites like the midway around Allianz Field. We need commerce and the interstate is part of that commerce. Removing it isn't going to help people here."

Our Streets Minneapolis isn't the only group with a plan. For several years now, Reconnect Rondo has advocated building a land bridge over I-94 that would extend four city blocks and serve to reconnect the historic Rondo neighborhood.

"They see that as kind of the most realistic option and," Melo said. "There's discussion (about the land bridge) right now at the state legislature and eventually it's going to require some federal funding as well, so this really goes all the way to Congress."

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