In Duluth, Minnesota, a ribbon is cut by Mayor Gary Doty to honor a special event that is taking place on October 28th, 1992. The event is the ribbon-cutting at the entrance of the now brand-new Leif Erickson Tunnel on Interstate 35 that is 1,480 feet long. The grand opening signifies the completion of a long project and is part of a highway that stretches 1,593 miles from Canada all the way to Mexico. Although the tunnel was finished at last, the federal government stated that only 99.7 percent of the Interstate Highway itself was finished.
Back in 1958, the building of a highway was suggested by the Minnesota Highway Department that would run through Duluth’s downtown and should be paid for with funds from the federal interstate highway. It should run along the Lake Superior shoreline as well as being elevated; however, pedestrian accessibility to the area of the waterfront as well as a number of downtown buildings would have to be eliminated in order to successfully build the tunnel. The Mayor commented on that besides it being a face-lifter, the tunnel would also fix the issue of traffic problems in downtown Duluth.
Unfortunately, the 1960s saw how unpopular it was having freeways running through cities across the country. Those who were against this idea said not only do they create more traffic problems but destroy businesses and homes as well as causing poor neighborhoods to disappear. Anti-road activists in Duluth began to prepare to fight against the freeway’s creation. The group known as Citizens for Integrated Highways and the Environment in 1970 started the discussion in stating that the city’s largest asset was the waterfront and the construction of a big expressway between downtown and it would be a huge mistake; meanwhile, another group calling itself the Stop the Freeway was getting ready to do just that!
Knowing the resistance many were putting up to stop the tunnel from being built, highway officials were able to put together a compromise. The road would be kept but the tunnel would be constructed underground rather than using stilts and on it’s’ lid, a lakefront park would be built. The result of this plan was greatly accepted by all and construction of the $220 million tunnel caused minimum disruption to the road. Also, this gave residents of the city and tourists a beautiful place to relax at. The tunnel won an award for Excellence in Highway Design, during the first month it was opened, from the Federal Highway Administration. Lake Superior Magazine reported that many who had originally opposed the freeway’s construction are now a part of its artistic appeal. Also, those who felt that Duluth was the only place it could be built agree that without concern from the residents, the final design would never have been considered. Finally, the Minnesota Department of Transportation spokesman put it in perspective that this happened as a result of the people of Duluth agreeing what was best or the town and then working together to accomplish a common goal.