Saint Paul, MN

St. Paul City Planner George Herrold and His Proposed ‘Northern Route’ for Interstate 94

Matt Reicher
Interstate 94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis 1967Minnesota Historical Society

Discussions about building a highway to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul began in 1920 and gained momentum shortly after WWII. Rapidly increasing automobile use post-war meant it was time to consider ways to overcome ever-increasing 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. Local highway department officials felt that St. Anthony Avenue, running parallel to University and Marshall from downtown to the western city line, was the best route for the new highway.

St. Paul's eighty-two-year-old "founder of city planning," George Herrold, city planner since 1920 and regarded in local circles as an unbending idealist, immediately voiced concerns. If built to the scale being considered by officials, he believed the proposed route 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 ran south of the State Capitol and surrounding government buildings, effectively separating them from downtown St. Paul. Herrold considered the move a severe 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 was adamant 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 minimal 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 educating both by presenting the pros and cons of multiple options was key planning policy.

In 1945, he proposed an alternative that came to be known as "The Northern Route." Herrold recommended a four-lane roadway that ran a mile north of University Avenue along existing railroad lines north of today's Pierce Butler Route. He relied on his experience and understanding of the "heart" of the city in offering his alternative. 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 to the north of 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.

He felt 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. Their goal was to move as much traffic as possible off of city streets. The additional travel time beyond Saint Anthony Avenue to the Northern Route meant that Herrold's option would carry less traffic than their plan.

Herrold's 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.

The economics of the time also played a part in their decision. The passage of President Eisenhower's 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act meant that the Federal Government would bear ninety 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, December 9, 1968, at 2:30 in the afternoon, after 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 drove from St. Paul and Minneapolis and met in front of Highway 280. After a short ceremony (attended by approx. 200 people), representatives from each of the Twin Cities tied ribbons together to signify their linking.

By 4:00 PM that same day, Interstate 94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis was officially open.
George Herrold's "Northern Route"Altshuler, Alan A.. "The city planning process: a political analysis."


  • 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.

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 1

Published by

Freelance historian

Hugo, MN

More from Matt Reicher

Comments / 0