DULUTH – A grassroots vision to drastically transform the Interstate 35 corridor through downtown Duluth is getting an official push from city leaders.

On Monday the Duluth City Council will vote to take a look at "the feasibility of removing this specific I-35 corridor, and help gain a better understanding of how this concept could advance a number of the city's transportation, climate, economic, housing, neighborhood vitality and other goals."

The resolution would not commit the city to any plans or spending but does put some weight behind a citizen-led effort to rethink a part of the freeway that is on average used at less than 50% of its capacity.

"It's a first step toward envisioning what the future might look like," said City Council Member Arik Forsman, who is co-sponsoring the resolution with Council Members Gary Anderson, Zack Filipovich and Roz Randorf. "It's pretty exciting stuff, and as a council, all we're doing is elevating the voices of those in the community doing this work and getting people excited and starting a conversation."

Last year the Duluth Waterfront Collective unveiled its "Highway 61 Revisited" plan that would see the interstate replaced by a parkway, better connect downtown and Canal Park for pedestrians and create a rare commodity in Duluth: space for development.

"This freeway takes up so much space, and we're trying to figure out what exactly the opportunities are for alternatives," said Jordan van der Hagen, a landscape designer and spokesman for the project. "What can that look like for a city, and how can it serve the wants and desires of the people who live here better than the freeway does?"

The resolution is the first step in what could be a generation-spanning project.

"This is a 50-year vision," Filipovich said. "It will help the city and transportation partners set a long-term plan for this area."

The federal infrastructure bill passed by the Senate includes $1 billion for studies on highway removal or reconfiguration similar to what is being discussed in St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood or what has been done in cities like Milwaukee, which removed the Park East Freeway and opened up 24 acres of downtown for redevelopment.

"We're just excited it has the chance to get evaluated against what exists right now," van der Hagen said.

Slowing traffic through the corridor could have ripple effects on North Shore communities and freight and visitor traffic headed there. Filipovich and Forsman said that will get a close look well before any action is taken.

"When you get into details, you're looking at heavy-haul traffic, what were the soils used for," Forsman said. "As we think about what the city looks like over the next 100 years with climate change and what might be on the horizon, there's something in this for everyone. But we have to make sure we're not screwing something up."

Brooks Johnson • 218-491-6496