This is in response to recent commentaries in the News Tribune about the problematic history of Interstate 35 in Duluth, including the Dec. 7 column, "Duluth incomplete without stronger downtown-lake connection," and the Dec. 11 “In Response” column, “It took a team to build I-35 through Duluth.”
I remember it well. Many of us radicals were disappointed that the Minnesota Department of Transportation was able to bulldoze Interstate 35 through Duluth, destroying many businesses, houses, and the environment of West Duluth, West End, and downtown. We thought the freeway should have gone around our city.
In the early 1980s, the Duluth City Council passed a resolution mandating that the project stop at Mesaba Avenue, but a Duluth legislator managed to insert an amendment into the 1983-84 MnDOT budget (without notifying the city and legislative colleagues from Duluth). So the freeway was extended to London Road.
As the commentaries pointed out, the original extension plan cut off our city from Lake Superior and destroyed many historic buildings like Joe Huie's Restaurant, Metropole Hotel, and Club Saratoga. The Fitger’s complex, Pickwick, and other history was to be wiped out, too. However, a group of radicals, led by volunteer lawyer Dennis Opsahl, went to Washington and convinced our congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Transportation to show the extension through the tunnels and prevent more disasters.
President Dwight Eisenhower and Congress were right to propose the interstate freeway system, but I wish that the trillions spent in urban areas could have been better spent on mass transit.
The writer served in the Minnesota House of Representatives from 1973 to 1981 and from 1985 to 2009.