Rethink Downtown Duluth's I-35 Corridor

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As Interstate 35 runs from Mesaba to Lake Avenue, it travels through a neighborhood in which 32% of residents don’t own a vehicle. It takes up 20% of the land within our downtown while handling less than 50% of the traffic it was built for. This freeway is excessive for the needs of our community, and the burden of maintaining it is becoming clear as projects such as the Twin Ports Interchange wind up costing hundreds of millions of dollars more than expected.

Lake Superior is our source of vitality, and cutting off our central business district from the lifeblood of our city was a mistake. Today we see two distinct urban areas, our downtown and waterfront, where ideally we would have one unified downtown waterfront. There are only a few ways of traveling between these distinct areas, regardless of whether you're in a car or on foot. Some of the city's worst traffic backups occur when people are forced into these bottlenecks. Issues with pedestrians are two-fold, in that these unsafe crossings make it difficult for residents to access the lake and tourists are discouraged from visiting downtown businesses.

Less than one year ago, the Duluth Waterfront Collective released the Highway 61 Revisited concept which reimagines downtown Duluth with a landscaped boulevard replacing I-35.  The boulevard, which would consist of space for vehicle traffic, rail, rapid transit, biking, and walking, would be lined with trees and green infrastructure, helping our city reach both its transportation and climate change mitigation goals. It would also create room for centrally located public parks and plazas, as well as 20 acres of developable, tax-generating land in a one of the most livable parts of our city. It would cost less than maintaining the freeway, and create space for generating wealth. It gives us the opportunity to create successful places for businesses and much needed housing relief by eliminating a few lanes of concrete rather than displacing homes and families.

In addition to the concept our group has developed, there are many other options which could be considered, including building more freeway caps (similar to Giche-Ode Akiing and the Rose Garden further east). There is no shortage of options available to consider, and we should be exploring those options to understand their costs and how they can potentially improve the environment and economy of our city as well as the lives of its residents.

Rather than sustaining a piece of infrastructure that divides our city, we have a rare opportunity to reimagine the one mile stretch which runs from Mesaba to Lake Avenue as a place for us to come together.

With new federal funding programs coming online for projects which accomplish what ours would, we now see a clear path forward for formally exploring what the I-35 corridor could be, and the doors are opening on the opportunity to rethink, and potentially rebuild, this part of our city in a more livable, equitable, and sustainable way. There are a number of entities which could step up and make this happen, including the City of Duluth, the Metropolitan Interstate Council, and MnDOT. Our focus is now to ensure our elected leaders, city and regional planners, and transportation officials are on board, and to position our city to take advantage of this once in a generation opportunity.

Please join us in signing this petition to demonstrate your support for rethinking downtown Duluth's I-35 corridor.

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