Ramsey County History – Winter 2014: “Citizens versus the Freeway: RIP-35E and the Pleasant Avenue Route through St. Paul”

John Watson Milton

Citizens versus the Freeway: RIP-35E and the Pleasant Avenue
Route through St. Paul
Author: John Watson Milton

In September 1955, the National System of Interstate Highways identified the Pleasant Avenue corridor as the route for north-south Interstate 35E through the City of St. Paul, connecting with east-west Interstate 94. As St. Paul residents became aware of the negative impact of such a highway system to residential areas and famous landmarks in the city, a non-profit was formed called RIP-35E, which brought a lawsuit to halt construction of the roadway. RIP stood for Residents in Protest. The litigants included the City of Saint Paul, four neighborhood associations, and eight citizen groups. The founders of RIP-35E were Summit Hill residents Dr. Davitt Felder, James Wengler, and Thomond R. O’Brien Sr. Banker David M. Lilly was also a significant leader of RIP-35E. Because Congress had passed and President Richard Nixon had signed the National Environmental Policy Act on January 1, 1970, the lawsuit halted construction so that the highway builders could provide the now-required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The EIS became the centerpiece between the contesting parties. After a two-decade battle, the federal court ruled that construction of the highway could proceed with specific limitations and on October 15, 1990, the contested 3.7-miles stretch of I-35E Parkway opened with a 45 MPH speed limit (to reduce noise), limited access points, and no truck traffic. These limitations are still in effect today in spite of multiple attempts to make changes. Of the more than 47,000 miles of interstate roadways that were built during this era, the I-35E Parkway is one of only two sections of national highway that enjoy these restrictions.
PDF of Milton article