ReConnect Rondo works to launch national coalition of cities seeking redress for highway construction


By Frederick Melo. Originally published March 1, 2023,

Cities bisected by interstate highway construction in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s often share what some might liken to the equivalent of historical wounds. Middle-class Black and immigrant communities found themselves uprooted or isolated by asphalt, often without just compensation for the impact on their homes and small businesses.

In St. Paul’s historically-Black Rondo neighborhood alone, some officials have calculated that the lost wealth would exceed $157 million in today’s dollars.

A summit this week at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown St. Paul aims to bring together some 25 cities that share similar experiences with highway construction, a first step toward launching a collaborative new national “movement” dedicated to reversing the worst of its impacts, said Keith Baker, executive director of ReConnect Rondo.

The inaugural “Reconnecting Communities” conference opened with a morning address Thursday from St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter. Sessions continue into Saturday.

St. Paul’s ReConnect Rondo organization is hosting the “Reconnecting Communities” conference together with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ Center for Environmental Excellence, with support from the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials.

Expected attendees included city and nonprofit officials from Detroit, Seattle, Tampa, Baltimore, Akron, Dallas, New Orleans, New York City, Minneapolis, Duluth and St. Cloud, among 18 to 20 cities in total.

“We just appreciate being a part of igniting a national restorative movement,” said Baker, during a media event at the Intercontinental Hotel on Thursday afternoon. “When we think about Rondo, we also think about Detroit. We also think about Columbus, Ohio… Austin, Houston, Virginia. The theme goes on.”

Baker said the summit will return to St. Paul next year and then look for a new host city for 2025.

ReConnect Rondo has advocated for a $392 million land bridge over Interstate 94 in St. Paul spanning multiple city blocks between Chatsworth and Grotto streets. The concept has already drawn some $2 million in federal “Reconnecting Communities” funding for initial environmental and traffic study, as well as a wide variety of public reaction. Supporters say it could reunite a community cleaved by highway construction in the ’60s, while critics fear that pricey new real estate may simply lead to gentrification of a mixed-income neighborhood.

In a parallel but potentially overlapping effort, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has released a public survey asking for feedback on how it could redesign a 7.5-mile stretch of I-94 from Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis to Marion Street in St. Paul.

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ReConnect Rondo Technical Advisory Team:

  • David Juliff, Be Civil, Inc.
  • Khani Sahebjam, SRF Consulting Group
  • John Maczko, SRF Consulting Group
  • Kent Arhenholtz, Kaskaskia Engineering Group
  • Brenda Thomas, KLJ, Inc
  • Marcus Thomas, Bolton & Menk
  • Scott McBride, Bolton & Menk
  • Marcell Walker, Bolton & Menk
  • Veronica Burt, 600 Strategies, Inc.
  • Björgvin Sævarsson, YORTH Group
  • Katie Eggers, YORTH Group
  • Jim Erkel, Retired Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy (MCEA)
  • Brian Isaacson, Ramsey County
  • Diem Van Groth, Strategic Consultant