If you’ve ever been late to dinner thanks to construction-related traffic nightmares, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is making it up to you.
MnDOT has partnered with Eat for Equity, a nonprofit that puts on community meals, to host Bridging Dinner, a free meal on the Portland Av. Bridge over I-35W and in Franklin Steele Park (600 Portland Av. S., Mpls., RSVP at bit.ly/bridgingdinner).
The four-course, family style dinner on May 2 is part of the Rethinking I-94 Project, an effort by MnDOT to improve relationships with the communities that live along the highway that connects Minneapolis and St. Paul. For this event, the focus is on the neighborhood at the intersection of I-35W and I-94, which has already endured its share of construction-related detours and eyesores.
Hors d’oeuvres will be passed on the sidewalks of the Portland Av. Bridge during rush hour, while dinner will be served in neighboring Franklin Steele Park. The area “is like a balcony to that construction,” said Emily Torgrimson, executive director and co-founder of Eat For Equity. “It’s an interesting juxtaposition to set lots of tables on the edge of the park and to imagine together what that public space and what transportation could look like.”
While the event doesn’t directly address the construction currently taking place on I-35W, MnDOT’s hope is to hear from community members about how to improve I-94 going forward. Highway construction projects are decided anywhere from 10 to 30 years ahead of time, said Brenda Thomas, engagement and strategy director for MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 Project.
This approach is in contrast to how highways were built in the Twin Cities in the past. I-94 tore through neighborhoods when it was built in the 1960s.
“Homes were lost, businesses were lost or moved, and the community wasn’t consulted with,” Thomas said. “It just happened to them.”
For the May 2 event, entertainment and kids’ activities start at 5 p.m., with dinner from 6 to 8 p.m. Culinary professionals who live or work in the neighborhood, on the edge of downtown Minneapolis, are catering the meal. (They are Abe Levine; Mariam Omari and Kotiareenia Taylor of K’s Revolutionary Catering; Keyse Ibrahim; and Dulce Monterrubio of Dulceria Bakery.) Eats include tamales, Somali beef stew, and halal, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
“We think food is a really natural way to bring people together and set the table for a conversation,” Torgrimson said.