by Frederick Melo, Pioneer Press. Originally published February 2, 2021.
A lifetime ago, construction of Interstate 94 carved a deep trench through a historically middle-class Black neighborhood in St. Paul, destroying properties by the hundreds. More than 600 Black families were forced to relocate, and many never saw just compensation for their losses.
“My story of Rondo begins when I saw my father cry for the first and only time,” said Marvin Anderson, whose father built 12 apartment homes with a group of fellow railroad chefs, only to receive a fraction of their official valuation when they were removed. “He got the news that (his) final appeal had been denied by the Commissioner of Highways in St. Paul.”
Anderson, a former state law librarian who was a young man when I-94 uprooted his childhood haunts in the 1960s, has long dreamed of doing what some have called impossible — restoring the Rondo neighborhood, almost street by street.
On Tuesday afternoon, he made his pitch to state lawmakers. His vision calls for a “land bridge” of sorts that would create a cap over I-94 in St. Paul for several blocks between Lexington Parkway and Dale Street. Anderson, who has worked closely with the Urban Land Institute on general concept plans and strategy, foresees the bridge hosting environmentally-friendly new housing, jobs, recreation and community spaces.
Anderson appeared before the House Transportation Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday afternoon to ask for $6 million to complete pre-design, general planning and engineering studies.
The funds, if awarded, would come as a general state appropriation, and set the scene for a much larger ask a year or more from now. He foresees the cost of land bridge construction will exceed $250 million, which could come from state bond funds, federal funds and local sources down the line. Part of the goal of the pre-design is to nail down likely costs and potential funding.
His goals are not without precedent.
“We’re looking at this the same way the state did $300 million for the Twins Stadium, which is basically a land bridge over a freeway,” Anderson said. “The state has invested large money for other projects.”
The House committee, which is chaired by state Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, invited a variety of speakers, including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, Reconnect Rondo managing director Keith Baker, and two public health advocates — University of Minnesota Medical School assistant professors of medicine Dr. Laalitha Surapaneni and Dr. Brian Muthyala.