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Open letter from Commissioner Tinklenberg

Mn/DOT is following through on Governor Ventura's commitment to provide taxpayers a transportation system that is reliable, safe and offers affordable travel alternatives so our state can stay competitive. As part of that goal, on July 26, 1999, I announced that Mn/DOT was beginning construction of the long-awaited Hiawatha Avenue/Highway 55 project between 46th Street and 54th Street in Minneapolis. The current roadway desperately needs repair. It is too narrow to handle the growing volume of traffic, and it has become a safety challenge for pedestrians and motorists.

Improving Highway 55 also allows us to build the region's first light tail transit line (LRT). This new travel option is an environmentally friendly weapon against congestion.

Unfortunately, this project has been made difficult and costly by a handful of vocal individuals who have made it necessary to engage expensive police protection at the construction site to ensure the safety of construction workers, local residents, innocent bystanders and, yes, even the protesters. They disrupt traffic, attempt to stop construction, cause distress to local neighbors, and continue to host a deliberate smear campaign against Mn/DOT.

Prior to initiating construction, Mn/DOT examined concerns about the project. Independent investigations were done by respected professionals and officially recognized individuals. The Minnesota Indian Affairs Council is one such group. It is made up of the state's 11 federally- recognized tribes, and is responsible for determining the cultural significance of Native American sites. In its review of the project the council:

  • rejected the claim of Native American tribal status from a handful of individuals,
  • rejected their claim to land in the Hiawatha Avenue area, and
  • rejected their claim that there were four trees used in ancestral ceremonies.

The Council stated in October 1998, that no substantial evidence exists that the proposed Highway 55 rerouting would directly impact any such site...."To attempt to exploit a piece of land for the purpose of simply stopping the rerouting of a highway, is not only wrong, in the long run it hurts our efforts to protect sites that are truly sacred and culturally significant. We respect and honor the Council's position on this issue." Some people have alleged that Mn/DOT shoved this project down the throats of citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth. It did not happen quickly nor in isolation. The Highway 55 reroute design is the result of more than 30 years of intense public involvement. Local residents and elected officials worked thousands of hours dissecting 120 alternatives. They worked hard to find the common ground upon which the current alignment is built. I thank them for their perseverance and assure them that I am committed to keeping faith with the direction they set.

The public involvement process resulted in a complete redesign of the six-lane freeway originally proposed by Mn/DOT to the current four-lane parkway. It also increases the size of Minnehaha Park by 2.3 acres. A suggestion to simply widen the current roadway would actually require eliminating more homes and businesses, and reducing safety elements of the new alignment.

I regret that moving forward with the by-pass and the reroute involves the removal of several large trees. Landscaping experts aggressively explored how to minimize the impact and their analysis determined that of the 237 significant trees, 130 can - and will - be saved. We are working with neighbors, the Minneapolis Park Board, Department of Natural Resources and the Minnehaha Watershed District to develop an extensive landscaping and wildlife enhancement plan. It will provide new, safe walking and biking paths plus a land bridge connecting both sides of the park without crossing traffic. Our children will enjoy an urban green area while traveling a modern roadway and the LRT.

It is our standard practice to inform the public before construction begins. I am sorry we could not do this for the Hiawatha Avenue neighborhood. Police reports dictated that safety must be our number one concern. We felt that safety first was not only appropriate but the responsible thing to do. The end result was to leave the residents and taxpayers feeling that they have received less attention and consideration than the protesters. I find this unacceptable.

To all residents and taxpayers, I promise that we will continue to listen, and regularly publish information on what is happening and why. We will host on-going discussions of a sincere and thoughtful nature with neighborhood representatives.

I want to thank all the people who took the time to give a message of encouragement to the Mn/DOT employees who are working hard to make the new, improved and safe Hiawatha Avenue/Highway 55 a reality. On their behalf, I thank local residents for their patience and tolerance during these initial weeks of construction. By continuing to work together, we will build a transportation corridor and green space for future generations to use and enjoy. It is time to move ahead on the Hiawatha Avenue/Highway 55 project.

Sincerely,

Elwyn Tinklenberg, Mn/DOT Commissioner

 



"The public involvement process has resulted in a complete redesign of the six-lane freeway originally proposed by Mn/DOT to the current four-lane parkway. It also increases the size of Minnehaha Park by 2.3 acres."