Part 1 of a series 

A virtual Town Hall meeting 1pm Tuesday, April 6 explored issues and opportunities created by the search for improvements in the Highway 252/I94 Corridor segments in North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park.

Stairstep Foundation CEO Alfred Babington-Johnson joined Conversations moderator, Al McFarlane as co-host, to introduce an initiative to support Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) efforts to broaden engagement around the project for African American and African immigrant residents who may be impacted by improvement considerations.

Forum participants included: Reverend Dr. Francis Tabla, senior pastor Ebenezer Community Church in Brooklyn Center, Bishop Richard Howell, the Diocesan Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and Pastor of Shiloh Temple Church in North Minneapolis, Reverend Cyreta Oduniyi, a pastoral leader at Liberty Church in North Minneapolis and Superintendent McKinley Moore, pastor of Jehovah Jireh Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn Park.

The Town Hall meeting was the first of three planned Town Halls  in the effort engage leaders of African and African American church organization congregations and neighbors, and marketing outreach through McFarlane Media, producer of Conversations with Al McFarlane and owner of Insight News.

“Often when we hear corporate CEOs and political office holders or leaders of civic or educational institutions speak, they cite strategic plans that guide their steps. When we lift the curtain and get a chance to see these plans, what we discovered is that they're not simply minutes of a discussion was held in the previous week. Now, we see plans that represent the thinking of the best minds that are available in the timeframe of the planning is 10, 15, 20 years, or more,” said  Babington.

“The truth of our village is that we are not aware of, nor are we often included in the early discussions of important social or physical infrastructure changes that dramatically affect our lives. That is why this moment is so exciting to me. From the governor, to the commissioner of MnDOT, to our gathered friends here, this forum, there's a determination that we will begin anew with intentional inclusion of folks that have traditionally been left out. The process begins with the information. The Bible says, ‘My people perish, for lack of knowledge.’ We've determined that none will perish for lack of information about 252/I-94,” Babington said.

April Crockett, MnDOT risk area manager who leads the 252/I-94 project called the effort is a significant undertaking for the department. “We have challenges and we have opportunities. We have the opportunity to address operational issues as well as have a conversation with and within the communities. We're exploring, making connections, building relationships and having conversations in a way that we haven't been able to do,” she said.

John Thompkins is multimodal planning director for MnDOT’s Metro District. He is responsible for implementing modal plans, like, for instance, a bike plan, pet plan, Americans with disability plan, or even a freight plan involving rail, water or trucking. “In implementing those plans,” Thompkins said, “we have to be mindful of quality of life, environmental stewardship and economic vitality, which articulate MnDOT's vision for transportation. And with that we have to be able to hear all voices, all voices of the community, not just one in particular, but all voices that matter.”

“We have a challenge in reaching African and African-American communities. We had to better articulate what we want to do in the historically underserved or sometimes uninformed communities. We wanted to do outreach and engagement that was intentional and authentic with the target communities,” Thompkins said.

Project Manager Jerome Adams said the 252/I94 Project starts at Fourth Street North in downtown Minneapolis and goes up to highway 610 in Brooklyn Park. “We are starting the process of looking at alternatives. The goal is to pick an alternative to construct by 2024. It's going to be a three-year long process to look at alternatives. And then the goal is to begin construction in 2027,” Adams said.

Providing background information on why modifications are being explored, Adams said, “Currently, we're seeing a high number of crashes, traffic congestion, and significant barriers for pedestrians and bicyclists in this project area. Also both roads are deteriorating and need to be repaired.”

Adams said Brooklyn Center, in 2016 and Hennepin County, in 2018 did studies to understand issues on the corridor. “And we're doing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that will outline potential projects’ benefits and impacts to the area surrounding highway 252/I94. Our team will continue engaging with the community and other stakeholders at each step in the EIS process,” he said.

Superintendent McKinley Moore of Jehovah Jireh Church said the intersection of Hwy 252 and 85th Avenue in Brooklyn Park has concerned for the community for many years. “The safety of vehicle, bicycle` and pedestrian traffic through the intersection is a real and present danger. We've lost several young people at that intersection. Our own congregation lost one young man who was struck and killed by a vehicle at that intersection. So it is indeed a present danger and we would like to see important changes made at that intersection,” he said.

“That's one of the reasons why we're here, Superintendent Moore,” Adam said.  “Over the next three years, we want to look at solutions that can reduce if not eliminate these fatalities. Also the intersection at 66th Avenue was ranked second worst for crashes in all intersections across the state. 85th is ranked ninth. So, yes, it is a big problem. on the project. Right now 252 has six signals and we'll be looking at several options including do we get rid of the signals and replace them with grade separations, meaning putting a bridge over the local road or vice versa.”

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