Urban Highway Removal in Minneapolis?

NOTE: You can read a different version of this on Streets.MN!

In the Twin Cities, skyways have worked their way into the cultural vernacular probably more than was intended by their original designers. A few connections quickly turned into a culture of second level retail that eventually pulled retail away from the street; and whether we like it or not, skyways have become a staple of our urban culture. We have this contradictory relationship with them in the sense that we willingly accept their shortcomings, but can’t do anything about them. The psychology of previous investment hits home; it’s infrastructure that we’ve invested in! We can’t just throw it away? Can we?

Enter: the urban highway.

Cities across the country (and globe) have decided that  urban freeways could be turned into parks and development opportunities. In American urban planning circles, freeway destruction seems to be becoming ever more popular. TED talks have been dedicated to the topic. Butcan it be done in the Twin Cities?

If the Twin Cities were to rid themselves of one highway, what one would it be? Or, what segment of one highway could be removed?

I – 94:

While Interstate 94 through the core neighborhoods caused tremendous damage, it is a major artery that would probably be unwise to remove. Too many issues would arise from removing 94; both politically and economically. It is an interstate and would require the cooperation of the Federal government and problems of traffic re-routing would be difficult, if not impossible. Even if it were torn down, there might not be a good ROI in respect to the cost of a tear down. Unfortunately it appears as if we are stuck with 94 and its current alignment.

I – 35W/E:

Similar problems that arise with 94 are present here. 35W and 35E have turned into high-volume traffic corridors. However, a case could be made to re-route traffic from 35E between the Mississippi River and downtown St. Paul on Shepard Road. Although this section of 35E could be turned into an amazing park and add associated development (to increase ROI), it might be difficult due to the topography.

I Р394: 

Like the others, difficulties present themselves in removing I394. Yet, there is one small segment that looks like a near-perfect candidate for removal:

There is a small stretch of 394 that leads into the Warehouse District (and into parking garages). Many options are available for this segment: parkland with bike path, development opportunities or a possible park/re-route of the proposed Southwest Corridor light rail. This section however, doesn’t have one thing that makes most urban highway tear downs successful: water.

It appears as if most all success urban highway removals add connectivity to waterfronts. This highway removal wouldn’t be adding that connection. Now, imagine how cool this could be if someone with graphic design skills could whip it up!

While I have limited this short analysis to the local interstate system, highways and other large roads could be candidates. What are your thoughts? Is urban highway removal possible in the Twin Cities? If so, where?


  1. Sid Burgess · January 14, 2012

    I prefer to remove them and replace them with nothing. Meaning return the grid and land-auction the new lots.

    • Nathaniel M Hood · January 14, 2012

      Oddly, side streets often move faster than the interstates during peak periods. A return to the grid might be great, but politically not viable. Regarding “nothing” – I wonder if there are examples of abandoned highways, and how long before nature reclaims them?

  2. Matt · January 14, 2012

    In other cities, the highways disconnected a dense urban area from a waterfront. We don’t really have any examples from that here. One thing that would help is to increase connectivity and deal with the chasm freeways create between neighborhoods. I know a lot of people have suggested the idea of bridging trenches. Here’s something I had thrown together a few months ago: http://g.co/maps/b69mm

    I think that’s a better fit for many areas in our core cities… we can keep the freeways, but improve the experience above these trenches. More parks and development, less cost than removing the freeway altogether.

    • Nathaniel M Hood · January 14, 2012

      Matt –

      I apologize, but I’m checking up on your comment a tad late. I couldn’t get the map link to work. In theory, I do like the idea of bridging trenches. Thanks for reading! Best -Nate

  3. Peter Harnik · January 14, 2012

    This is a very worthwhile path of investigation. Highway construction in the Twin Cities has been extremely destructive. It continues to damage the urban fabric and stimulate sprawl into the countryside.

    There is another factor that could be investigated — decking over freeways with parkland. There is already the precedent of the I-94 Tunnel in Minneapolis, although that deck is covered mostly with a spaghetti of other roadways on top. But continuing that deck north a few blocks would enable the creation of a continuous park incorporating both Loring and the Sculpture Garden. It would also remove the “sound barrier” that overwhelms both of those important parks, and it might stimulate redevelopment in the area.

    • Nathaniel M Hood · January 14, 2012

      Peter –

      I wish I had more time to investigate the issue, but its certainly fascinating. I do like the idea of decking over freeways and possibly some development via air-rights. I’d agree that something needs to be done, at least in the long-run, to connect Loring Park to Kenwood / Sculpture Garden.

      Thanks for reading! All the best -Nate

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