Every day as many as 180,000 motorists travel on Interstate 94 between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul. It’s likely an overwhelming majority of them have opinions on how the Minnesota Department of Transportation could make the trip better.

People who live in neighborhoods near the freeway likely have thoughts, too.

MnDOT has launched an initiative called Rethinking I-94, and over a period of two years the agency is collecting as much information as possible to learn about who is using the freeway and how often, what kinds of trips they make and what problems need to be addressed. The agency also wants to know how the freeway affects residents who live near it and the value they place on issues such as mobility, housing, employment and the environment. In short, as MnDOT develops future improvement plans, the agency wants to know what stakeholders see as the pressing issues and how to open the communication channels to get discussion going.

That’s where a question from Drive reader Barb of St. Paul comes in.

“I received a phone call this afternoon at home from the Department of Transportation, wanting to do a survey on Highway 94,” she said in an e-mail. “They asked if I lived in Ramsey or Hennepin counties. Could this be on the up and up? Seemed fishy to me. When I called back it was a market research firm.”

With all the telemarketing scams out there, you had every right to be suspicious, Barb, but that call was actually legit.

During the first half of February, MnDOT hired a firm to call 800 people who live within 1 mile of I-94 in the study area, which stretches roughly from West Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis to Hwy. 61 in St. Paul. Responses were augmented with answers from interviews conducted online with 500 people who are frequent freeway users. And last fall, MnDOT used research firms to conduct phone interviews with 300 people living in ZIP codes within 1 mile of I-94 in the study area and interviewed another 800 others online.

Wider range of voices

There are plenty of ideas on what to do to improve travel on one of the state’s busiest and most congested freeways — everything from adding more general purpose lanes, putting in a MnPass lane, upgrading exit ramps and overpasses and improving bike routes and overall safety on roads in areas adjacent to the freeway.

Too often, though, the voices of residents are often underrepresented or not heard when large undertakings such as Rethinking I-94 come up, MnDOT spokesman Nick Carpenter said.

To rectify that, Carpenter said MnDOT is working harder to engage people earlier, more often and in different ways, rather than just through public meetings and announcements on its website. Phone surveys are one way, even though they are not new.

“We have been conducting phone surveys of Minnesotans for several decades,” he said.

Every year MnDOT surveys Minnesotans about their experience with the transportation system, with questions ranging from how well the system is maintained and operated to questions about transit and bicycling and pedestrians. MnDOT also calls metro area residents to ask them about their experiences with congestion mitigation strategies.

If you get a call from MnDOT, or a marketing firm on its behalf, take it. Think of it as your chance to give your two cents.


Follow news about traffic and commuting at The Drive on startribune.com. Got traffic or transportation questions, or story ideas? E-mail drive@startribune.com, tweet @stribdrive or call Tim Harlow at 612-673-7768.