Rethinking I-94: MnDOT highlights 10 scenarios, but some want a do-over

18 July 2023

When Houston’s massive Katy Freeway was further expanded to become the widest freeway in the world, drivers were in for an unfortunate surprise. Traffic increased, and rush hour travel times decreased by as much as 55 percent, evidence of a dynamic dubbed “induced demand” — more lanes just draw more drivers attracted to the possibility that bigger means both better and faster, resulting in quite the opposite.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation hit a new milestone this week in an ongoing effort to rethink how to shape Interstate 94 from downtown Minneapolis to the edge of downtown St. Paul. But some transit and neighborhood advocates along the corridor say the recently-narrowed slate of options do more to promote speedy car travel than healthy, safe communities.

“Go back to the drawing board,” said Mary Morse Marti, a former executive director of the transportation advocacy organization Move Minnesota, addressing a group of MnDOT engineers and consultants on Monday. “Stop drawing big suburban highways in our beautiful cities.”

10 concept plans for I-94

MnDOT on Monday unveiled 10 general concept plans for the I-94 corridor, ranging from doing nothing — a “no build” scenario used largely for comparison purposes — to filling in the deep trench of the interstate and creating an at-grade highway that links more smoothly to frontage roads and side streets in both cities.

Several scenarios added travel lanes, including road shoulders or a center lane dedicated to bus transit. A bus rapid transit service likely would connect to at least three stops at Snelling Avenue and Dale Street in St. Paul, as well as 27th Avenue in Minneapolis.

Some scenarios called for making I-94 more consistent, so the interstate maintains the same number of travel lanes from segment to segment — potentially two general purpose travel lanes in each direction, as well as one “managed” lane in each direction for EZ Pass drivers and bus rapid transit.

Or… take the frontage roads along I-94 and turn them into new local corridors, so bus shoulders on Interstate 94 feed right into them…

— CityHallScoop (@CityHallScoop) July 17, 2023

The two-and-a-half-hour public meeting, held in person and live on Zoom, drew dozens of comments from attendees, most of them opposed to the prospect of freeway expansion.

Some called for MnDOT to revisit the possibility of light rail or subway service, and several attendees said MnDOT had been too quick to reject the prospect of replacing the interstate with a multi-lane boulevard geared toward local travel speeds.

“Expansion is not one of those alternatives that appears to fit with the goals that have been iterated in this process,” said former Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, who now sits on the Metropolitan Council, the metro’s regional planning agency.

Objections from two cities

In 2021, the St. Paul City Council voted 7-0 to send MnDOT the message that they opposed any efforts to add travel lanes or expand existing lanes, which they predicted would simply draw more drivers, followed by even more environmental and health impacts. The city of Minneapolis shared similar concerns in writing.

“Anything that supports expansion, even if it’s expansion for transit, feels clearly in opposition to what we stated,” said St. Paul City Council Member Mitra Jalali, addressing MnDOT officials. “Why is expansion even on the table?”

Her concerns were echoed by Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley. “We’re talking about the poisoning and pollution that comes with freeway expansion,” she said. “What we want is for our residents and our constituents to be healthy, to breathe.”

Jack Corkle, a representative of the design consulting firm WSB, said they had retained the “no build” scenario but dismissed options that would reconfigure an at-grade roadway without public transit, arbitrarily lower the speed limit or remove the freeway entirely without replacing it.

Among WSB’s stated concerns, decreasing travel lanes or capacity would likely decrease the overall number of trips on I-94, decrease the number of vehicle miles traveled or even cause some users to alter their home or workplace locations, creating a spillover in some cases to local roads.

Conley and others noted that the prospect of a multi-lane boulevard did not fit neatly into any of the rejected categories.

“That’s the number one alternative to me,” she said. “That’s the only alternative to me.”

Evaluating rail on I-94

Robert McHaney, a consultant with the Goodman Corporation, said that I-94 did not lend itself to heavy rail options, but those were considered anyway in response to public demand. An analysis of potential ridership showed limited gains in terms of passengers despite the high cost of construction.

While a limited-stop bus rapid transit service on I-94 might draw 3,500 riders per day, and the light rail might draw 6,800, the Green Line drew more than 50,000 daily riders pre-pandemic, and is projected to grow to 70,000 riders by the year 2040, he said.

Why not build light rail on I-94? Technical/sensitivity analysis estimated high cost, limited ridership along the interstate for a light rail… in contrast to some other modes…

— CityHallScoop (@CityHallScoop) July 17, 2023


“This isn’t really a commuter rail corridor … certainly not for high speed rail,” McHaney said. “Those were not recommended, but we heard a lot of interest in light rail. We wanted to be responsive.”

Discussion touched only briefly on the prospect of a highway lid, or cap across the interstate, proposed around the Old Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul, a historically-Black community uprooted by interstate construction in the 1950s and ’60s.

Keith Baker, executive director of ReConnect Rondo, said he would take the 10 design options back to the community for public input.

MnDOT officials said they would work through both a public outreach and scoping process over the next year designed to combine public transit and road considerations, further reducing alternatives by June 2024. At that time, the state agency likely would release a list of necessary ramp or interchange modifications, as well as a general analysis of potential corridor impacts.

More information about “Rethinking I-94” project is online at

Related Articles

Local News |

Written driver’s tests for new Minnesota residents going away

Local News |

Jerome Johnson: Rethink Summit Avenue (and I-94) to save Summit

Local News |

St. Paul ramps up citywide pothole program after ‘really bad’ spring

Local News |

Virginia car enthusiast finds Ford Model A on Facebook Marketplace

Local News |

Expect I-94 closures this weekend due to Gold Line construction

Need help?

If you need support, please send an email to [email protected]

Thank you.