Gabe Tandoh wants something to be done to address the crashes he sees on Highway 252, which runs just outside of the gym he owns in Brooklyn Park, Training Day Fitness.
“I see car accidents here at 85th and 252 basically every day,” said Tandoh. “At this point, I don’t really care which direction they choose, they just need to do something about it, because it’s a very dangerous intersection.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) found that at-grade intersections on Highway 252 have more crashes than usual compared to intersections on most of its other highways in the state overall. The state agency is also concerned that both Highway 252 and Interstate 94 are carrying more traffic than the roadway capacity, so they are considering widening it, which will likely displace residences and businesses, including some areas that have previously been affected by freeway construction in the past.
The project to make changes to Highway 252—an at-grade highway that connects Interstate 94 at its southern end in Brooklyn Center, past residential subdivisions that are blocks from the Mississippi River to Highway 610 at its northern end in Brooklyn Park—has been in the works for years. The city of Brooklyn Center conducted a study in 2016 that found issues around safety and neighborhood connectivity.
Indeed, the highway has seen lots of carnage. Between 2016 and 2019, the highway saw a total of 654 crashes, or roughly two crashes every five days. The 85th Avenue intersection saw 155 total crashes in that same period, the second-highest number of crashes after the 66th Avenue intersection, which saw 220 total crashes. The agency finds this concerning because the 2.25 crashes for every one million vehicles that drive on Highway 252 exceed their goal for all state highways, which is one crash for every one million vehicles that drive on it.
It concerns Indred Alexander, who lives next to the freeway in Brooklyn Park. “Those intersections are very dangerous, because speeding traffic does not necessarily stop for the signals. We’ve had several children killed on the highway just trying to cross the street,” said Alexander.
“When my children were attending Evergreen Elementary [at 72nd Avenue and Dupont in Brooklyn Center], we actually had to pay for a bus [to bring our children to school] because [even though it is] less than a mile away, we did not want to risk having our children crossing the highway during rush-hour traffic.”
Pre-pandemic, MnDOT was also concerned that both Highway 252 and Interstate 94 are carrying more traffic than they were capable of. According to a manual for engineers who design freeways, Interstate 94 and Highway 252 are designed to accommodate 134,400 and 57,600 vehicles per day, respectively, not accounting for freeway intersections and ramps, as well as the number of trucks and buses that use the road, the hills it is built on, the curves and the weather.
But according to the agency’s traffic-mapping application, Highway 252 carried 56,000 vehicles per day in 2021, while I-94 carried just over 98,000 vehicles in 2021. Nonetheless, MnDOT says that up to 11,000 more vehicles per day will travel the corridor in 2040, and data from the Metropolitan Council shows that traffic on I-94 and 252 has recovered to close to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.
One of MnDOT’s solutions calls for widening 252 for its entire length so they can install a MnPASS lane, a dedicated lane for buses as well as people who drive and are willing to pay a toll to bypass traffic congestion. They also want to close some intersections and convert the remaining intersections to interchanges to minimize the number of crashes that could happen.
“This would essentially upgrade 252 to a freeway. They may also widen I-94 to Dowling Avenue by painting in an extra lane, which could also allow them to add a MnPASS lane.
Widening and converting Highway 252 intersections to interchanges may displace up to 150 parcels of land, among them one that Alexander owns. A former resident of Rondo who lived next to Highway 252 for 27 years and whose parents lived on Rondo Avenue in St. Paul before it was destroyed to build Interstate 94, Alexander is angry. “Just the whole thought of this displacement to do another highway expansion, and how it’s impacting two of the cities [in Minnesota] that have the highest minority population per capita, it makes me angry. It makes me feel like we are really living in the 60s.”
Some local business owners, including Nadine Walker, are worried about being cut off from it. Walker, who opened Nadine’s Plus Size Boutique in a strip mall adjacent to Highway 252 and 85th Avenue, relies on Highway 252 to drive traffic to her store, which she opened in March to honor her grandmother.
“Being a growing business, I don’t have avenues in advertising,” said Walker. “This strip [mall] is [full of] family-owned businesses, it’s important for us to have [the freeway serve us.]”
MnDOT is required by federal law to develop measures to mitigate the impacts to businesses, residents and property owners during the environmental review process. A spokesperson for the agency says they currently do not have any of those plans developed at this time.
MnDOT acknowledges upgrading 252 to a freeway, regardless of whether it is widened, may also increase greenhouse gas emissions. However, they won’t know how much until they complete a federally required environmental review in 2024. Studies also show converting highways to freeways, particularly making them wider, may actually make congestion worse. People who see a wider freeway that is not congested may be more inclined to drive on it.
To mitigate potential climate change impacts, the agency is studying changes to Metro Transit local and express bus service. Today, three express buses operate on the corridor to downtown Minneapolis from Brooklyn Park, Champlin, Coon Rapids and Anoka in the morning, returning in the afternoon.
They are considering providing all-day service operating between Minneapolis and the suburbs in both directions, which could potentially include restoring trips Metro Transit reduced in years past from Route 766, which runs from downtown Minneapolis along Highway 252 and West River Road on its way to a park-and-ride in Champlin.
Metro Transit also considered creating a rapid-transit bus line similar to the Orange Line running on I-35W to either Maple Grove Transit Station, seven miles west of Highway 252, or Northtown Transit Station across the River from where 610 and 252 meet. They also considered building new stations that both BRT and express buses could serve at West Broadway, Lowry and Dowling Avenues on I-94, and at 66th, 73rd and 85th Avenues on Highway 252.
They decided against it because it could cost up to $450 million to build and up to four times more for Metro Transit to operate while bringing in 200 new riders by 2040, compared to improving express service.
Nonetheless, Angela Williams, a Camden resident who is running for Ward 4 City Councilmember as a Republican, wants to see BRT built on I-94 instead of the Blue Line being extended, because she believes it can better serve the North Side.
“I noticed on I-35W [over] South, they do have something like a bus station that comes off the expressway. It goes through a terminal, and then it comes out,” said Williams, who relates that experience to Chicago’s L system, two routes that run on the center of the freeway.
“I suggested [to the Met Council] that maybe they should look at how Chicago has done their transportation, instead of coming through…and destroying a community that is already built.” Williams added the agencies should engage Northside residents to better understand if they want BRT running on I-94 in North Minneapolis.
MnDOT is accepting comments until May 26 on its document that guides what alternatives to study as part of federally required environmental review.
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