Calming I-35W congestion

Highlights of proposed transit projects

Last fall, Minneapolis was one of five cities selected to receive a $133 million federal grant under an Urban Partnership Agreement (UPA) for tolls, transit, technology and telecommuting on I-35W.

The project would affect all of 35W from Downtown Minneapolis to the southern tip of Burnsville. New park- and-ride stations would pop up in the suburbs, toll lanes would be built on 35W from Richfield to Downtown, and Marquette and 2nd Avenues — two important Downtown corridors — would be completely reconstructed.

In order to get the grant, however, the state must provide $55 million in matching funds by the end of this year’s legislative session, bringing the total budget to almost $190 million. Lawmakers would also have to authorize the project’s use of tolls and shoulder lanes.

The work would not interfere with the Crosstown Reconstruction, said Bernie Arseneau, director of Traffic, Safety and Operations for the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), but would turn the planned carpool lanes on 35W into toll lanes.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (8th Ward), who sits on the council’s Transportation and Public Works Committee, was disappointed that the grant wouldn’t cover building a proposed transit station at Lake Street & 35W but said the project would ultimately benefit much of the metro area and help promote transit usage and carpooling.

“It’s about starting that process of changing our behavior through offering good choices,” she said.

Arseneau is optimistic that the state will come through with the matching funds and authorization needed for the project to proceed. “I think [our chances] are pretty good,” he said. “The governor is behind it, and the House and the Senate transportation chairs are also supportive of the project.”

Transit Lanes on Marquette and 2nd Avenues

WHAT: Both streets would get one additional transit lane to allow buses to leapfrog one another during busy periods. The city, which would head this portion of the project, also hopes to add bus stop shelters on the sidewalks, improve lighting and landscaping, and install new technology, such as signs that let commuters know how long until the next bus arrives.

WHEN: Construction would begin as soon as the state provides match money, which could be this spring. The project would have to be finished by December 2009.

Toll lanes on north and southbound 35W from 66th to 42nd Streets

WHAT: Similar to the toll lanes on I-394, southbound and northbound 35W would have single, left toll lanes from 66th to 42nd streets, which would be open to all traffic during non-peak hours. After 42nd Street, cars would be rerouted back into non-toll lanes, unless, heading northbound, the left shoulder toll lane from 42nd Street to Downtown is open, in which case, drivers would continue on in the same lane.

WHEN: If approved, construction would begin this fall and be finished in October 2010, roughly the same time as the completion of the Crosstown Reconstruction.

Left shoulder toll lane on northbound 35W from 42nd Street to Downtown

WHAT: During periods of congestion, the left shoulder would open to toll payers, carpoolers, buses and motorcyclists. At all other times, however, it would function as a normal shoulder to be used only during emergencies. Signals indicating when the shoulder lane is open, like the signals on the Lowry Bridge, would be installed on overhead bridges every half-mile. This is the centerpiece of the UPA project, said Arseneau, because we’re the first city in the world to attempt it.

WHEN: If approved, construction would start this fall and be finished by September 2009.

How tolls work

Tolls — or congestion pricing, the term MnDOT prefers — give solitary drivers the option to pay to use lanes that are reserved for buses, motorcycles and carpoolers during periods of high traffic.

The fees are generally in effect from 6 a.m.–10 a.m. and 2 p.m.–7 p.m — but otherwise the lane is open to everyone. Tolls range from $0.25–$8 depending on the amount of traffic.

To pay for tolls, drivers must get a transponder from MnDOT, which looks like a garage door opener, and attach it to their visors. The amount automatically deducts from their accounts when their cars enter the toll lane. MnDOT guarantees that 95 percent of the time, drivers in the toll lanes will be able to go at least 50 miles per hour.

Source: Urban Partnership Agreement

Contact Mary O’Regan at [email protected] or 436-5088.