MnDOT addresses council about possible toll lane

By Derrick Knutson— 

Pay-to-ride lanes in Minnesota aren’t as prevalent as on the coasts, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation is moving in that direction as a way to reduce traffic congestion along the I-35 corridor.

Brad Larsen, a MnPASS policy manager with MnDOT, presented the council Monday night with MnDOT’s plan over the next few years to construct pay lanes on some of the state’s busiest roads.

The lanes, as reflected in Larsen’s job title, would be called “MnPASS.”

Two such lanes already exist along 35-W and I-394, and the next proposed segment could be constructed along I-35E, from St. Paul to Little Canada, if funding is approved by the state.

Larson told the council fees nationwide for lanes like the one proposed range from 25 cents to $8, but usually average $1.25 to $1.50 per ride.

Drivers with two or more passengers in their vehicles could use the lane for free.

Larsen stressed that constructing pay-to-ride lanes cuts down on traffic congestion over a longer period of time than building additional general-purpose lanes.

“With a general purpose lane, it becomes congested rather quickly within a few years,” he said. “We need to get more than a few years out of these investments. Lane expansions are among the most costly highway improvements we make. Because of the pricing elements, (traffic congestion reduction) would last for decades instead of just years.”

He added that tolls paid by drivers who would traverse the proposed lane wouldn’t completely cover the capital expenditure to build it.

“It’s not intended to generate a bunch of revenue,” he said. “The purpose is to maximize traffic flow.”

Mayor Amy Oehlers thanked Larsen for the update, but said MnDOT should also look into further expanding commuter rail.

Council member Kathy Blomquist questioned Larsen about how congested the corridor could be during construction of the lane.

Larsen said he didn’t anticipate levels would be high during 2013, but backups due to construction would likely increase the following year, and MnDOT is looking at numerous ways to keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible if construction of the lane does come to fruition.

Precincts established 

During the latter part of the meeting, the council approved precincts and polling locations within the city.

The first precinct encompasses the area of the city west of I-35. Its polling location is Abundant Life Church.

The second precinct is east of I-35 and north of Highway 95. Its polling location is United Methodist Church.

The third precinct is east of I-35 and south of Highway 95. Its polling location is the Chisago County Senior Center.

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