$2 million grant brings community closer to reunification
ReConnect Rondo has become the first and only Minnesota recipient, so far, of a federal grant to address the Interstate 94 freeway that divided the Black neighborhood of Rondo in St. Paul decades ago.
The funding is made possible by the Department of Transportation’s Reconnecting Communities pilot program, a five-year grant initiative created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress in 2021. Rondo is one of about 950 disadvantaged communities throughout the country that were economically crippled due to the construction of the federal highway system.
“It is incredibly validating to see the federal government take responsibility for the lasting harm on communities all these years later with hard dollars that can materially help us today in our effort to springboard into a more healthy and planful future,” said ReConnect Rondo Executive Director Keith Baker in a statement.
The organization plans to use the $2 million grant, in addition to $500,000 in matching city and state funds, to conduct a traffic study of their proposed land bridge. The funds will also support a federally required environmental review and help ReConnect Rondo get input from more community members.
The idea for a land bridge first came up for discussion in 2009. However, actual planning for the project did not begin until 2014, when local community organizations came together to ensure the Metropolitan Council built stops on the Green Line to serve them.
In 2017 Reconnect Rondo was formed on the premise that its proposal to build a land bridge over Interstate 94 could help rebuild a community that was divided by the highway constructed between 1960 and 1967. The initiative includes plans to facilitate a Black cultural enterprise district with homes, businesses, and anti-displacement measures. It is the first restorative effort of its kind to be led directly by the community.
Hallie Q. Brown Community Center Executive Director Jonathan Palmer sees the potential of the land bridge and what it can mean for the community. “There’s an opportunity not only for reconnection across the highway, but opportunities around what will go on that land bridge in terms of green space, in terms of businesses, in terms of housing. There’s great opportunity for amenities to come to this community without disrupting or taking away homes again,” said Palmer.
Our Streets Minneapolis, which has proposed a controversial highway-to-boulevard conversion plan, acknowledged the award. “Any funding that addresses past harms from racist transportation planning decisions is progress,” said organization spokesperson Carly Ellefsen.
In 2021, the Minnesota Legislature approved $6.2 million in pre-development funds for Reconnect Rondo, and the organization was awarded $1.5 million to support restorative development and a “net zero” multi-use prototype.
Construction of the land-bridge project could begin as early as 2026.
Leave a Reply