Transportation
Written by Tom Steward | February 6, 2021

St. Paul City Council Unanimously Opposes Adding Lanes to Relieve I-94 Congestion

Motorists have undoubtedly appreciated the pause in traffic congestion on Twin Cities freeways with the decline in commuters during the Covid-19 shutdowns. But before Gov. Tim Walz handcuffed the economy via executive order, some 360,000 workers traveled in and out of the metro area to their jobs. If and when business gets back to normal and commuters likely return to pre-pandemic habits, rush hour will come roaring back with them.

A January 2020 Metropolitan Council report warned that “investments that address Twin Cities congestion are of statewide importance and warrant attention.”

Given the strong interdependence of the metro area economy to the Greater Minnesota economy, congestion has the potential to limit the entire state’s economic growth. With the just-in-time nature of businesses, any delays in deliveries can shut down manufacturing plants waiting on parts. Delays translate into lost revenue for the manufacturer, so congestion directly impacts economic competitiveness of Minnesota businesses.

It’s a timely reminder with MNDOT in the process of planning to reconstruct I-94, the area’s most congested roadway. Yet the St. Paul City Council is already trying to put the brakes on the most obvious way to not only improve congestion, but the economy and personal lives of commuters in the process. The Pioneer Press notes city councilors unanimously oppose adding traffic lanes or otherwise adding to the capacity of the interstate running through St. Paul.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation is still at least two years away from beginning construction on a “reimagined” Interstate 94 in St. Paul, but city council members are eager to get the word out now about what they don’t want to see in the design plans: added or widened travel lanes.

On Wednesday, the St. Paul City Council voted 7-0 to adopt a lengthy resolution laying out their concerns about any design that would draw more vehicles or faster speeds to the I-94 corridor through the city. Calls to MnDOT were not immediately returned Thursday, and it’s unclear the degree to which additional travel lanes are part of current concept plans.

The economic and other benefits that would accrue to their constituents through improvements to the freeway’s greater efficacy either don’t matter or haven’t occurred to the city’s top elected officials.

…The council called for improvements that benefit rather than bypass local residents, including prioritizing public transit. MnDOT has also considered putting a “lid” of sorts over a stretch of the interstate to reconnect neighborhoods separated by freeway construction nearly 60 years ago.

“We believe that widening the lanes doesn’t benefit the local residents,” Thao said. “In fact, it creates more space for traffic, and it diminishes air quality. … It takes a holistic approach. It’s not just about moving cars through St. Paul.”

There’s still a long way to go in developing the “Rethinking I-94” roadmap. In recent years MNDOT and the Met Council have often displayed more interest in adding bike lanes than freeway lanes to the transportation system. Yet the Met Council report leaves no doubt that addressing Twin Cities congestion should be a top priority, including in St. Paul.

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