How Racist Are Our Highways?

In recent months, liberals have floated the idea that the U.S. highway system is “racist,” and therefore vast amounts of money must be spent to expunge that taint. Pete Buttigieg caught quite a bit of flak for making this claim, but did not back off from it.

Supposedly, one shining example of racist highway construction is Interstate Highway 94, which links Minneapolis and St. Paul. The claim against I-94 is that when it was constructed 60 years ago, it cut through, and divided, a black neighborhood. As a result, Minnesota Democrats are planning a radical solution: they want to build a half-mile long bridge over the existing highway, accessible from both sides, so that the neighborhood can be reunited.

So far, Minnesota’s legislature has appropriated $6.2 million for “project development,” not to build the land bridge, which will cost vastly more, but to study the concept. I am aware of this mostly because the $6.2 million grant was nominated for the Golden Turkey Award, but did not win:

Award nomination aside, I was intrigued by the apparent consensus that building Highway 94 was “racist” because its path went through a black neighborhood. After all, when you build a highway through a residential area, like the ten miles or so between Minneapolis and St. Paul, you inevitably are splitting some neighborhoods. Was Highway 94 designed in some nefarious fashion to go out of its way to bisect a black neighborhood?

I-94 enters the Twin Cities from Madison and points east. It runs from St. Paul to Minneapolis, and from there continues west, before long bending north and continuing on to Fargo. This is the big picture:

The highway runs due west out of Wisconsin, makes a slight jog to avoid the Mississippi River as it enters St. Paul, and then continues west again toward Minneapolis. It bends to the northwest, again following the Mississippi River, crosses a bridge, and continues on to the west. It doesn’t seem as though any particular neighborhood is targeted.

This is the stretch of the highway that is proposed to be covered with a “land bridge.” It runs from Rice St., just west of the Capitol, to Lexington Avenue in St. Paul:

What jumps out, to any normal observer, is that the highway just goes due west. It doesn’t dodge white neighborhoods or Asian neighborhoods, it doesn’t go out of its way to bisect black neighborhoods, it goes from east to west (or vice versa) via the most direct route to connect Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The highway’s construction through residential neighborhoods inevitably involved the condemnation of homes and the division of neighborhoods that were mostly white. But no one cares about that. Because Interstate 94 happened to go through a black neighborhood through a small part of its length, it is “racist” and countless millions must be spent to “unite” the once-black neighborhood that it passed through (but not, of course, any of the far more extensive white or Asian neighborhoods that the highway separated).

This is idiotic from any perspective, but it also is worth noting that no one who lived in the mostly-black Rice Street to Lexington Avenue neighborhood 60 years ago is still there. If you assume that there is some benefit to the “land bridge”–I suspect the benefit accrues mostly to the lawyers, engineers and construction companies who will build it–none of that benefit will go to anyone who allegedly was harmed by the “racist” highway. Who lives in that area now? Who knows? Who cares?

The I-94 land bridge is a classic Democratic Party project of the 21st Century. They start out by talking about race, on the theory that this will deter anyone from pointing out how dumb the project is. (Weirdly, this often seems to work. I can’t explain why.) They then go on to spend countless millions of dollars for no good reason–which is no problem for them, since spending money is an end in itself. Spending money equals buying votes.

And when the bigoted irrationality of the project becomes evident, it will tend to stimulate race hatred, which is one of the Democrats’ strategic goals. So it’s a win-win all the way around, if you are a Democrat. The only losers are the poor suckers who have to pick up the tab.

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