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Lawmakers take first steps toward land bridge over I-94 reconnecting St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood

A rendering of the proposed land bridge over a stretch of Interstate 94 through St. Paul intended to reconnect the Rondo neighborhood. (Rendering courtesy Design by Melo and Visuals by James, via Reconnect Rondo)
A rendering of the proposed land bridge over a stretch of Interstate 94 through St. Paul intended to reconnect the Rondo neighborhood. (Rendering courtesy Design by Melo and Visuals by James, via Reconnect Rondo)

St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood was once a thriving middle-class community that 80% of the city’s African American residents called home.

But during the construction of Interstate 94, which cut through the middle of the neighborhood, hundreds of homes were demolished, businesses closed and the vibrant community was destroyed.

However, several years ago a plan to reconnect the neighborhood by building a “lid” over the freeway emerged. The land bridge would cover the highway for several city blocks to restore that physical connection and, it is hoped, revitalize Rondo.

Sponsored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights), HF2169 would fund the initial steps of that plan. The House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee heard the bill Thursday but took no action, although the chair, Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls), said it could be included in an omnibus bill.

The companion, SF2220, is sponsored by Sen. Sandra Pappas (DFL-St. Paul). It awaits action by the Senate Transportation Finance and Policy Committee.

Richardson said Rondo’s story was “one of pain, trauma and heartbreaking loss,” adding that the decision to run the highway through the “heartbeat” of St. Paul’s Black community was an intentional act.

“This bill is long overdue and provides the opportunity to begin the process of reconciliation and healing,” she said. “In addition to righting historical wrongs, it provides the opportunity to benefit public health by reducing air and noise pollution. It also provides a pathway to recovering taxable land.”

The bill seeks a $6.2 million General Fund appropriation in fiscal year 2022. The money would be granted to ReConnect Rondo – the organization leading the effort – “for project development of the Rondo Land Bridge freeway lid over marked Interstate Highway 94 in a portion of the segment from Lexington Avenue to Rice Street.”

During a presentation to the committee, Keith Baker, ReConnect Rondo’s executive director, said the funds would be used for pre-planning activities that include:

  • $3.6 million for assessment and analysis, environmental and master planning;
  • $1.2 million for organizational and ecosystem capacity building;
  • $1.2 million for anti-displacement/restorative development modeling; and
  • $200,000 for community planning and engagement.

Baker said the land bridge would create hundreds of new housing units, additional office space, up to 1,800 new jobs, community growth and increase revenue for the city by over $3.8 million.

“We’re imagining a blank canvas, a canvas of 3,200 linear feet and 15 to 21 acres of new land,” Baker said. “The big idea, obviously, is to build back what was lost for African Americans and to be forward thinking about how to build a bridge to better for Rondo and all the residents of St. Paul, the region and the state.”

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