St. Paul nonprofit ReConnect Rondo will receive a $2 million grant from the federal government for planning work on a proposed land bridge over Interstate 94, officials announced Monday.

The money comes from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot, a $1 billion program created by the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The initiative aims to address the harmful effects that past transportation projects had on places like St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood, the hub of the city's Black community, which lost more than 1,000 homes and businesses when I-94 was built in the 1950s and 1960s.

"ReConnect Rondo's neighborhood-led vision is important and will create opportunities for community empowerment and economic growth," U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who represents St. Paul, said in a statement. "Most importantly, it allows for reconciliation and healing for a community that was cruelly ripped apart."

Grassroots momentum started building for the land bridge in 2016, when current and former residents began discussing the possibility of a five-block cap over the interstate that would provide space for housing, parks, businesses and other development. The idea picked up steam in the years that followed, garnering interest and support from local, state and federal leaders.

Early cost estimates topped $450 million, which ReConnect Rondo said could be funded by a mix of public, private, philanthropic and individual sources. But for now, project leaders are focusing on predevelopment work, which they estimate will cost between $13 million and $15 million.

ReConnect Rondo launched those efforts in 2021 with a $6.2 million grant from the state. The nonprofit has commissioned a number of preliminary studies, which will ultimately help inform the project's master plan.

The new $2 million grant, coupled with a $500,000 match from city and state funding sources, will be used for an environmental impact study, neighborhood traffic analysis and community outreach.

"In our minds, we believe very strongly that the community is the master planner and developer — and that a lot of the work we've done leading up to this point is intended to ensure community ownership and wealth building," said Keith Baker, ReConnect Rondo's executive director.

The federal dollars will also be used to coordinate with the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Rethinking I-94 initiative, a yearslong effort to improve a 7½-mile stretch of the interstate running through Minneapolis and St. Paul.

ReConnect Rondo hopes to wrap up its master planning phase and move into design work in 2024. The nonprofit envisions starting construction on the land bridge as soon as 2026, though Baker said the timeline will depend on funding and coordination with other city and state projects.

News of the federal award was a promising sign for the land bridge, Baker said. Officials could apply for additional money from the Reconnecting Communities Pilot in the future to fund capital construction, he added, and there are also other avenues through which ReConnect Rondo could seek federal support.

"We feel really pleased that we were able to compete for these resources," Baker said. "We just really feel good momentum overall."