City Planner George Herrold and the Northern Route

(Proposed northern and southern inter-city routes for I-94 via "The City Planning Process: a Political Analysis.")
The discussion to build a highway to connect the Twin Cities began around 1920 and gained momentum shortly after the end of World War II. Rapidly increasing automobile use after the war meant that it was time to consider ways to overcome traffic gridlock on city streets. On November 1, 1945 the Pioneer Press offered their support for a new highway, one accessible to the University of Minnesota and designed to offer Minneapolis residents a way to “reach the State Capitol with more ease.” Highway department officials maintained that St. Anthony Avenue, running parallel to University and Marshall from downtown to the western city line, was the best option for the new highway.

Saint Paul’s eighty-two year old “founder of city planning” George Herrold, city planner since 1920 and regarded in local political circles to be an “unbending idealist,” voiced concerns about a placing a new highway on Saint Anthony Avenue (known as the St. Anthony Route). He believed the proposed route, if built to the scale being considered by officials, would cut the life out of the long established Prospect Park and Rondo neighborhoods. Herrold felt that it was the city’s civic duty to protect the interests of those citizens. While this was his most significant problem with the Highway Department’s planned route, it wasn't the only one.

The Highway Department’s proposed route separated the State Capitol and surrounding government buildings from downtown effectively , a move Herrold considered to be a “serious engineering blunder.” He couldn’t believe that officials hadn’t considered the economic ramifications of “placing the hundreds of employees of the Capitol and highway department… outside of the commercial and recreational districts” of downtown.

While Herrold agreed that the freeway would carry more vehicles more quickly, he felt that the automobile shouldn’t “dominate cities.” He believed that the St. Anthony Route was destined to become nothing more than a “gigantic ditch … and an unwelcome concentrator of exhaust fumes.”  Herrold also thought that the chosen freeway route, decided on with a minimal amount of impact studies and debate, showed incredible bias by the Highway Department. He considered his role to be an independent advisor for the community as well as his political superiors. Beholden to neither, he believed that the education of both by presenting the pros and cons of multiple options was key to planning policy.

(George Herrold, Director of Planning for St. Paul 1920-1952)
He proposed an alternative that would come to be known as “The Northern Route”, recommending a four-lane roadway that ran a mile north of University Avenue along existing railroad lines. Herrold relied on his experience and understanding of the “heart” of the city (two things he felt we integral to the planning process) in offering his route. Putting the freeway next to rail lines would minimize the impact felt by neighborhoods and businesses in the area.

Herrold’s route ranged from three-quarters of a mile to one-quarter of a mile north of the Saint Anthony Route. It bypassed the Rondo neighborhood completely and only minimally impacted Prospect Park. It also came through behind the Capitol grounds, allowing government offices to remain a direct part of downtown. Though it would add to automobile commute times in and out of the city, the difference would be no more than a couple of minutes. Herrold believed having drivers go a little out of their way was a better option than destroying the make-up of existing neighborhoods in the metro.

City officials never seriously considered Herrold’s plan. Their studies showed that the majority of traffic that would use the highway lived south of University Avenue. The additional travel time beyond Saint Anthony Avenue to the Northern Route meant that Herrold's option would carry less traffic than their plan. The Northern Route also added to growing traffic levels on connecting streets. The increased use meant that these streets would need to be repaired more often – costing the city more money. In the end, Highway Department officials felt that convenience trumped the negative social impacts of their plan.

A large part of their decision was born in the economics of the time period. The passage of President Eisenhower’s 1956 Federal Aid Highway Act meant that the Federal Government would bear 90 percent of the cost of building the new highway. Herrold’s route didn't qualify for federal financial support. In the end city leaders wavered very little from their original plan. Interstate 94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis was built over the Saint Anthony Route. 

On Monday Dec 9, 1968 at 2:15 in the afternoon, after many years of planning and nearly a decade of construction, the Twin Cities were linked with the dedication of the $80 million stretch of I-94. A coalition of leaders came from Saint Paul and Minneapolis and met in front of Highway 280. After a short ceremony (attended by approx. 200 people) representatives from each of the “twins” tied ribbons together to signify the linking of the two cities. By 4:00 pm that day the road was officially open to the public.

Works Cited:

Altshuler, Alan A. The City Planning Process: A Political Analysis. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1965.

Cavanaugh, Patricia. “Politics and Freeways: Building the Twin Cities Interstate System.” Center for Transportation Studies.

Garrison, William L., and David M. Levinson. The Transportation Experience: Policy, Planning, and Deployment. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Kunz, Virginia Brainard, and Robert Orr Baker. St. Paul, Saga of an American City. Woodland Hills, Calif.: Windsor Publications, 1977.

Nexus: David Levinson's Networks, Economics and Urban Systems Research Group. “Case Study #1: Interstate I-94.”

“Official Fought Freeway Route Near Capitol.” Session Weekly: A Non-Partisan Publication of the Minnesota House of Representatives 16, no. 12 (1999): 4, 17.

Pioneer Press (St. Paul), December 10, 1968.

Reicher, Matt. “The Birth of a Metro Highway (Interstate 94).” Streets.MN. September 10, 2013.
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