Saint Paul, MN

George Herrold and His Proposed ‘Northern Route’ for Interstate 94

Ron Dansley
I94 between Pascal and downtown St. Paul, looking eastPhoto byMNHS

ST. PAUL, MN - Discussions about building a highway to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul began in 1920 and gained momentum shortly after World War II. Rapidly increasing automobile use post-war meant it was time to consider ways to overcome surging gridlock on local city streets.

On November 1, 1945, the Pioneer Press offered 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 building with more ease. Local highway department officials felt St. Anthony Avenue, 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 considered by officials, he believed the proposed route would cut the life out of the long-established Prospect Park and Rondo neighborhoods. Herrold felt it was the city's civic duty to protect the interests of those citizens.

While this was his most significant issue with the Highway Department's planned route, there were others.

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 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 the freeway would carry more vehicles more quickly, he was adamant the automobile shouldn't dominate cities. He believed the St. Anthony Route would become nothing more than a "gigantic ditch… and an unwelcome concentrator of exhaust fumes."

Herrold considered his role to be an independent advisor to the community and his political superiors. Beholden to neither, he believed educating both by presenting the pros and cons of multiple options was key planning policy. He thought the chosen freeway route, decided on with minimal impact studies and debate, showed incredible bias by the Highway Department.

In 1945, Herrold proposed an alternative which came to be known as "The Northern Route." He 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 to one-quarter of a mile north of the St. 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 better than destroying the make-up of existing metro neighborhoods.

City officials never seriously considered Herrold's plan. Their goal was to move as much traffic as possible off city streets. Studies showed that most traffic who would use the proposed highway lived south of University Avenue. The additional travel time beyond St. Anthony Avenue to the Northern Route meant 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 those streets would need to be repaired more often—costing the city more money. In the end, Highway Department officials felt convenience trumped the negative social impacts of their plan.

The economics of the time also played a part in their decision.

Passage of President Eisenhower's 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act meant 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 deviated little from their original plan. Interstate 94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis was built over the St. 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 day, Interstate 94 between St. Paul and Minneapolis was officially open.


  • 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.
  • DiMento, Joseph F. C., and Cliff Ellis. Changing Lanes: Visions and Histories of Urban Freeways. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014.
  • 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.
  • “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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Historian and writer. Currently researching and writing Omitted Histories.

Hugo, MN

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