Kingfield may sue over I-35W project

At its July 13 meeting, the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) board unanimously voted to seek pro-bono legal council to explore a lawsuit that could stop the I-35W Access Project.

KFNA members said a lawsuit is their last chance to affect the project, which they said would bring traffic, pollution and noise, among other problems, to the neighborhood.

The access plan includes:

– Moving ramps now at 35th and 36th streets to 38th Street (the latter two streets run through Kingfield).

– Reworking the 5th Avenue freeway adding access to northbound I-35W.

– Adding access to Lake Street through the addition of a northbound entrance and a southbound exit via Stevens Avenue.

– Adding a northbound entrance ramp from Lake Street containing a high-occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane.

– Adding a northbound exit from I-35W to eastbound 28th Street.

– Adding a transit station for the Lake Street median.

– Widening or replacing bridges between the Franklin Avenue and 40th Street.

– Reconstructing I-35W between 26th and 33rd streets, as well as Lake Street between Blaisdell and 5th avenues, which could be expanded to up to seven lanes.

Supporters say the Access Project would more smoothly get traffic to Abbott Northwestern, Children’s Hospital and Wells Fargo’s South Minneapolis campus. They say the plan would fix unsafe merging from 35th to 31st Street, and reduce rising Lake Street congestion.

A community advisory committee approved the plan in 2002 but tweaked the design as late as last fall. KFNA members say their neighborhood views were marginalized in the advisory process.

In January, the city approved the plan’s "concept" at the urging of the nonprofit Allina Hospitals and Clinics, which was considering relocating its headquarters to Lake Street east of I-35W. After the city approved the access concept, Allina agreed to relocate — a move city officials say would to bring money and jobs into the city. A final city vote on the project is expected this fall.

KFNA board member Sean Wherley said the city approval is an example of corporations driving a state project and public process. He also claims that the project plans could violate federal requirements that projects cannot have undue influence on neighborhoods of color. Many neighborhoods near the highway are black and/or Latino.

Tom Johnson, PAC Access project manager, disagreed that Kingfield’s views have been marginalized. He also said that mitigation and relocation plans have been created to reduce the project’s impact on neighborhoods within the project’s path, including those with low-income and minority populations.

KFNA board President David Motzenbecker said board members also believe the Access Project is an illegal segmentation (breaking up into pieces) of a mothballed 1990s expansion project. KFNA members claim that project included concepts now in a planned Crosstown Commons expansion.

The Crosstown Project, also a state effort, would expand the Crosstown at the I-35W junction from six lanes to 13 lanes. The city is also reviewing the Crosstown project.

Johnson said that the segmentation claim is not valid, in part because the Access Project looks very different than what was proposed in the 1990s. He said the older project had scheduled to take out hundreds of houses and was much larger in scale in the affected area.

Still, Motzenbecker said the alleged segmentation is "illegal" and therefore worth at least looking into.

Added Wherley, "If we don’t do it, no one else will."