St. Paul summit draws people from 20 communities divided by federal highway system

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By Feven Gerezgiher, MPR. Originally published March 1, 2023.

A summit wrapped up on Saturday in St. Paul bringing together communities from across the country that were divided by the construction of federal highways, which government planners intentionally routed through Black and brown neighborhoods.

Representatives from 20 communities gathered at the invitation of ReConnect Rondo for the Reconnecting Communities Summit held from Oct. 12-14 at the Intercontinental Hotel in downtown St. Paul.

The cities included Akron, Ohio; Arlington, Va.; Austin, Texas; Baltimore; Columbus; Dallas; Detroit; Duluth; Kansas City; Minneapolis; New Orleans; New York City; Portland; St. Paul; Salt Lake City; Seattle; St. Cloud and Tampa.

The St. Paul nonprofit has been working for years to restore opportunity in St. Paul’s historic Rondo neighborhood, which was split by the construction of Interstate 94. It received $2 million in federal funds earlier this year to plan its vision for a land bridge.

Keith Baker, the executive director of ReConnect Rondo, said the summit helps amplify communities that are similarly impacted.

“When we think about Rondo, we think about Baltimore. When we think about Rondo, we think about Austin, Houston, Virginia — the theme goes on,” Baker said. “This is not just about Rondo. This is about the Black experience.”

On Thursday evening, the gathered leaders announced they will form a consortium that will work to advance policy and education to help reconnect communities impacted by transportation policy on a national level.

“This summit represents togetherness. That change is not a product of isolation, but rather the fruit of our collective efforts. It’s a reminder that when we come together, we have the capacity to move mountains, to make waves to build bridges,” said Marvin Anderson, board chair of ReConnect Rondo.

Community leaders shared experiences and best practices over the three-day summit, which was sponsored by the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO) and American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar made remarks at the summit.

ReConnect Rondo expects to host a second summit in St. Paul next year.

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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