Senate blocks MNDoT funding for Rondo ‘land bridge’ scheme

The Minnesota Senate voting to prohibit planning for the Northern Lights Express, a resurrection of the old passenger rail service between the Twin Cities and Duluth, wasn’t the only consequential vote related, however vaguely, to ‘transport.’ MPR News reports:

Democrats also tried unsuccessfully to remove language from [the transportation section of a larger supplemental budget and policy bill]…that blocks the Minnesota Department of Transportation from spending money on planning for study planning or engineering of the ReConnect Rondo project.

The governor and legislature agreed last year to spend $6.2 million for initial planning for the project, which supporters say could help repair damage from the routing of I-94 through the predominantly-Black Rondo area of St. Paul.

This is a very strange project. As my colleague, Bill Walsh, noted a while back:

The Minnesota Legislature tucked $6.2 million into the 2021 Tax Bill for project development of a “land bridge freeway lid over marked Interstate Highway 94 in a portion of the segment from Lexington Avenue to Rice Street in St. Paul.” This massive construction project seeks to reconnect a neighborhood split apart by the construction of Highway 94 sixty years ago.

The proposed tunnel will be over a half-mile long, twice the length of the Lowry Hill Tunnel in Minneapolis. Several questions remain unanswered including where to reroute trucks carrying hazardous materials and how to prevent car accidents since tunnels are notoriously dangerous.

Perhaps the biggest question is how planners will accomplish their goal of creating an “equitable future” for the site and avoid gentrification. In other words, how do you recreate a historic Black neighborhood if a bunch of white millennials ends up renting all the new apartments? A rift has already developed among community leaders over this challenge.

Like the Northern Lights Express, the I-94 land bridge is another scheme that would cost a lot of money without delivering any particular benefit to anybody. Thanks are due, once again, to the Senate for blocking this funding.