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13th International HOV/HOT Systems Conference: Partnerships for Innovation - Conference Proceedings
September 7-9, 2008
Minneapolis, MN

GENERAL SESSION
Arlene McCarthy, Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities, Presiding

Introduction

Arlene McCarthy,
Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities

I would like to echo Mn/DOT Commissioner Sorel’s welcome. I would also like to thank Katie Turnbull and the Planning Team for organizing an excellent conference.

It is a pleasure to moderate this session. The partnerships among the agencies in the Twin Cities are key to making the transportation system work. Strong, long-standing working relationships exist among the federal, state, and local agencies.

We have a very engaged community when it comes to transportation planning and implementation. Our congressional delegation and members of the state legislature are actively involved, including Senator Scott Dibble, who will be speaking at the Tuesday luncheon. County commissioners, mayors, city council members, advocacy groups, organized system neighborhood groups, educational institutions, and the public all participate in the process. All of these groups are partners in planning and implementing a wide range of transportation projects.

We are very proud in the Twin Cities to have what we call the federal tribeca. Along with Seattle, the Twin Cities is the only metropolitan area to have a UPA, a full-funding grant agreement for the North Star Commuter rail, and the Central corridor light rail transit (LRT) line in the project pipeline and in preliminary engineering. The new I-35W Bridge is also primarily federally funded.

We have a number of large projects. Partnerships are very important to delivering these major projects. Metropolitan Council Chairman Bell, who will be speaking at the luncheon today, says that major projects have had several near-death experiences. Partnerships are key to overcoming these experiences and situations.

The speakers during the session will highlight current transportation projects and the partnerships that made them possible. You will hear more about the Minnesota UPA and the I-394 MnPASS project in other sessions.

Innovation Partnerships Minnesota’s Bus-Only Shoulder Program and UPA Program

Nick Thompson,
Minnesota Department of Transportation

Thank you, Arlene. The UPA is the most recent example of the successful working relationships among transportation agencies in the Twin Cities. Since the UPA projects will be discussed in more detail in one of the breakout sessions this afternoon, I will focus my comments on the partnership used to develop the UPA proposal. I will begin by highlighting the bus-only shoulder (BOS) program developed through the Team Transit Partnership. This partnership has been very successful and is very relevant to this conference.

The BOS program allows buses to operate on freeway shoulders at speeds up to 35 mph in congested conditions. The program began over 10 years ago. Initially, it was controversial within Mn/DOT, but it is now fully accepted. The BOS program uses the 10 to 12 foot shoulders on freeways to provide significant travel-time savings and trip-time reliability to transit riders. The current system is near full build-out, with over 250 miles of BOSs in operation in the metropolitan area. The program is institutionalized with staff resources, design standards, and dedicated funding. Benefits from the bus shoulder lanes include guaranteed travel times, use of an underutilized asset, low per-mile costs, and funding for fixed guideways.

Many of the initial concerns emerged from the design section within Mn/DOT. Safety concerns were raised related to buses operating in the shoulder at higher speeds than vehicles in the adjacent general-purpose freeway lanes. A pilot program was conducted to test BOS operations. The pilot was successfully completed 10 years ago and the program has been institutionalized. We have a long history of success with this approach, which is used in all freeway corridors with transit services. The buses on shoulders concept is safe to operate, it is beneficial to riders, and it has an accepted design.

The system has significant benefits, including guaranteed travel times and schedules for express buses using highway corridors. The program allows buses to use an underutilized existing asset – freeway shoulders – for a very low cost of approximately $250,000 a mile. The region realizes an added benefit of extra federal funding, as the BOSs are considered part of the fixed-guideway system in the area. The Team Transit Partnership includes representatives from Mn/DOT, Metro Transit, and other transit agencies in the region. Team Transit meets on a regular basis to identify improvements in highway corridors that would benefit transit operations. Mn/DOT provides a dedicated program manager. Team Transit sets investment priorities and develops operational policies. It also initiates innovative ideas to improve transit in highway corridors.

There are a number of keys to the success of the Team Transit Partnership and other partnerships in the Twin Cities. First, there is strong support from top management in all agencies. The early resistance to considering the BOS concept within Mn/DOT was overcome by strong support from top leaders. Based on proven benefits of the bus shoulders, Mn/DOT provided dedicated funding of approximately $2 million a year and a dedicated project manager to move the program forward. Team Transit represented an organizational innovation when it was initiated, and it continues to provide an important focus for transit improvements along freeway corridors.

The 250 miles of BOSs focus on the major congested highway corridors in the metropolitan area. While the system may be expanded slightly in response to increasing congestion levels, we are also re-investing in early segments of the system. Mn/DOT is shifting some dedicated expansion funding into preservation of existing bus shoulders.

We are also exploring techniques to make bus shoulders operate more efficiently. One of the UPA projects is developing and implementing a lane guidance system for shoulder-running buses. Approximately $5 million has been allocated for this project, which will allow buses to maintain higher speeds, improve trip-time reliability, and improve safety in the bus shoulders.

Another UPA project is converting an existing inside shoulder on I-35W into a PDSL. The PDSL will be implemented in the northbound direction on a segment of I-35W approaching downtown Minneapolis. Use of the shoulder will be dynamic, in that it may be open to general traffic during an incident, it may operate as a HOT lane during the peak hours, it may be closed, or it can be used as a shoulder.

The PDSL is a key component of the Minnesota UPA and it represents an improvement to the BOS lane and the next phase of maximizing available capacity. The speed limit for buses operating on shoulders is currently 35 mph. Buses will be able to travel at 50 mph in the PDSL.

In response to the I-35W Bridge collapse, shoulders on I-94 and other selected freeways were converted to general-purpose lanes to help manage traffic. Response to these conversions from the traveling public has been very positive. With the new bridge about to open, consideration is being given to what to do with these lanes. Alternatives being considered include converting to PDSL, returning to BOS operation, and implementing an unpriced dynamic shoulder lane or managed lane. The last alternative might test the transit partnership, because if not done correctly, it could take away travel-time savings and trip-time reliability for buses.

The UPA is a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) initiative to fight congestion. The USDOT requested proposals from urban areas to address congestion by implementing strategies focusing on the four “T’s” of tolling, transit, telecommuting/Travel Demand Management (TDM), and technology. Funding of approximately $1.1 billion was identified for the program.

The UPA has an aggressive timeline. The program was announced at the end of 2006. The deadline for submitting proposals was April 30, 2007. A total of 28 metropolitan areas submitted proposals. Semi-finalists were selected in June 2007 and revised proposals were requested. Minnesota was selected as one of the five UPAs and awarded $133 million in federal funds in mid-August 2007.

Building new partnerships to reduce congestion is a goal of the program. Meeting the aggressive timeline for the proposal and project completion would not have been possible without established partnerships. Expanding existing partnerships was also necessary, however. Our innovation was building on existing partnerships and existing initiatives that had support and were ready to be implemented and re-packaging them to target congestion reduction in the I-35W corridor.

Minnesota was awarded $133.3 million in federal funds for the UPA projects. The federal funds are matched by $50.2 million in state funds. A total of $1.6 million in federal funds were released early to Mn/DOT for planning and engineering and $13.2 million were released to the Metropolitan Council for the I-35W north transit elements. Construction has begun on the various projects.

Legislative authority was required to implement and operate some of the Minnesota UPA projects. The necessary legislation was approved and signed by the governor in May 2008. The authorizing legislation package provides Mn/DOT with the authority to allow driving on freeway shoulders and the authority to charge shoulder lane users. It also includes language on how the revenues will be distributed and operational definitions. A $50.2 million state match was provided. The funding included $25.2 million in T.H. Bonds, $16.7 million in general obligation bonds, $4.3 million in general and T.H. funds, and $4.0 million in Regional Transit bonds.

The projects in the I-35W corridor will provide a congestion-free tolled express lane from Burnsville Parkway to downtown Minneapolis. The existing HOV lanes will be expanded to HOT lanes and extended through the I-494 interchange. The HOT lanes will be widened by two feet, a buffer will be added, and the striping will be modified to change from unlimited to limited access. Tolling and lane management technology will be added. Spot capacity improvements will be constructed. A new southbound auxiliary lane will be added from 106th Street to Highway 13. A new northbound collector ramp system will be added from 90th Street to I-494. A new HOT lane will be added from 66th Street to 42nd Street as part of the Crosstown Commons section reconstruction. This segment will open in 2010.

The PDSL will operate northbound from 42nd Street to downtown Minneapolis. The project maintains the existing four general-purpose freeway lanes and adds the PDSL. The PDSL concept is based on dynamic should lanes in use in the United Kingdom. The cross-section of the Minnesota PDSL will include a 12-foot PDSL and four 12-foot general-purpose freeway lanes. There will be a two-foot buffer between the PDSL and the adjacent general-purpose freeway lanes and a three-foot buffer both on the outside and inside freeway. Active traffic management, including speed harmonization and additional incident response capabilities, will be used when the PDSL is in operation.

The initial UPA proposal, which exceeded $400 million, had to be scaled back. Developing support for the proposal in the short time period available was challenging. Scaling back the geographic scope of the proposal to meet funding limitations created stress on the partnership. A reduced focus on tolling disappointed some of the partners. The proposal required significant local investment at a time of limited funding. Finally, the local partners did not have the authority to implement all of the proposed projects. Legislative action was required on the PDSL.

We overcame the concerns related to the limited geographical scope by establishing the UPA projects as pilots for future expansion. The tolling elements, which include expanding existing HOV lanes to HOT lanes and adding new HOT lanes and the PDSL, are non-controversial. The Minnesota UPA advances new ideas and existing unfunded plans.

I look forward to hearing about the other UPA projects in one of the breakout sessions. I hope you enjoy the tour of I-394 this afternoon and your stay in Minnesota.

Public Transportation Partners

Brian Lamb,
Metro Transit

Thank you, Arlene. Good morning and welcome to the Twin Cities. It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to speak at this session. To really see dedicated transit lanes in operation, you should have been here last week when the Republican National Convention was held in St. Paul. Numerous techniques, including bus lanes, were used to transport delegates, officials, members of the media, and other groups to the various venues.

You are all aware of the challenge we face with traffic congestion in metropolitan areas throughout the country. We often view traffic congestion as an enemy. Congestion robs us of productivity, stalling the movement of people and goods, and slowing the delivery of services. Yet, if infrastructure is sufficient, congestion also can be a symbol of regional vitality and prosperity. The population of the Twin Cities metropolitan area is forecast to increase by 1 million people by 2030. Congestion has increased over the past 15 years, and will continue to be a challenge in the future, especially with the projected population increase. Although we have a very vibrant metropolitan area, we also face significant transportation challenges.

According to TTI, which provides valuable annual information about congestion nationwide, commuters in the Twin Cities waste 43 hours a year stuck in rush-hour traffic. Further, commuters suffer $790 in delay costs annually. The Metropolitan Council conducts an annual regional livability survey. Residents routinely rank congestion and transportation issues as major concerns on these surveys. In many years, traffic congestion tops crime and other issues as the major concern.

We are addressing congestion in three significant ways in the region. First, we are focusing on moving more people, not just more vehicles. Transit plays a key role in this strategy. Second, we are expanding and enhancing the transportation infrastructure in the region. Expanding the transit infrastructure is an important part of this strategy. Third, we are implementing strategies focusing on trip reduction and VMT reduction. Transit, carpooling, vanpooling, and other TDM programs play a key role with this strategy. I will discuss each of these approaches.

Transit is a key element in moving people, not vehicles. In 2007, transit ridership in the Twin Cities was the highest it has been in the past 25 years. Metro Transit and other transit systems in the region have experienced steady ridership growth over the past four years. In 2008, we expect approximately 82 million people boarding Metro Transit buses and LRT vehicles. Overall, ridership increased 8 percent from 2007 to 2008. Express bus ridership increased 9.5 percent and LRT ridership increased 18 percent from 2007 to 2008.

There are many factors that influence transit ridership. When commuters face high gasoline prices, traffic congestion, and the stress associated with these factors, they are willing to try new alternatives. The new alternatives have to be reliable, serve major travel patterns, and provide advantages to driving alone, however. We work hard to ensure that our service meets these needs and expectations.

We have focused on building partnerships with area businesses to help increase ridership. Our Metropass program is oriented toward providing incentives at the business level by creating an “all you can ride” commuter program for employees. The Metropass program has grown from 35 participating companies five years ago to approximately 195 companies today. There are about 34,000 Metropasses in circulation among 154,000 eligible employees. Thus, about one of every four employees at the participating companies use transit.

We also offer a similar program, called UPass, to students at the University of Minnesota. Transit has a high market share among students at the university. University of Minnesota students have taken 2 million rides through July of this year, an increase of 30 percent over last year. In fact, nearly 5 percent of our total ridership is from UPass holders. The UPass program has also allowed the University to add new buildings without adding more parking structures.

The Metropass program provides numerous benefits. It provides an important link to the business community. For example, construction begins today on the dual bus lanes on Marquette and Second Avenues in downtown Minneapolis, which will replace the single bus lane. You will hear more about this project later this morning. Communication with riders about changes in bus routes and bus stops during the construction is important. The Metropass program includes a coordinator in each participating businesses. We can send an e-mail to the coordinators with current information on construction activities and changes in bus stops and they forward it on to the Metropass participants.

The Metropass program has also provided a good partnership to increase the visibility of transit with the state legislature. Members of the legislature listen when businesses representatives promote the importance of transit.

The next strategy we are using is expanding and enhancing the transit infrastructure. Investments in transitways, which include LRT, BRT, and commuter rail, are a key part of this approach. The Metropolitan Council is currently revising the Transportation Policy Plan, which focuses on multi-year investments. Future investments are made easier by the success of existing projects, including the Hiawatha LRT line.

The Hiawatha LRT line, which opened in June 2004, has been very successful. In 2007, 9.1 million rides were made on the Hiawatha line. We expect ridership to exceed 10 million rides this year, which was the projected ridership for 2030. It is easier to gain support for other LRT and rail projects based on the success of the Hiawatha line.

The Northstar commuter rail line is scheduled to open late next year. It will provide service in the congested Highway 10 corridor in the northwest portion of the metropolitan area. The Northstar will initially terminate at Midway, but will be extended to St. Cloud in the future.

We submitted an application to FTA last week to begin final design for the Central Corridor LRT line. The Central Corridor is 11 miles in length, linking downtown Minneapolis, the University of Minnesota, and downtown St. Paul. We hope the application will be approved and we can begin final design in 2009. The line is scheduled to open in 2014.

The Southwest LRT line is in the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) process. The results of this process, including the recommended mode and alignment, should be presented to the Metropolitan Council in the next year or two. The Bottineau Boulevard LRT corridor to the northwest is in the Alternatives Analysis (AA) process.

In 2000, this region did not have a fixed guideway transit line in operation. We now have a successful LRT line, a soon to be opened commuter rail line, and more LRT lines in planning and design. We also know it is important to support the bus system, which is the backbone of the region’s transit system. As Nick mentioned, we are the national leader in the use of BOSs on freeways and highways, with 270 miles in operation. Every express bus route in the region has access to a BOS for all or a portion of its trip. The use of these shoulders gives our customers a consistent travel time that they cannot get by driving alone.

In downtown Minneapolis, we are expanding the single bus lanes on Second Avenue and Marquette Avenue to dual bus lanes. This building-face to building-face reconstruction will also include new sidewalks, passenger shelters, better signage, real-time bus arrival and departure displays, better lighting, trees, and other amenities. When completed at the end of 2009, 180 buses an hour will be able to use the lanes compared to 60 buses an hour today. The $30-plus million project is part of the UPA, which also advances key BRT elements in the I-35W and Cedar Avenue corridors.

We know that reliability is very important to our riders. All Metro Transit buses are equipped with global positioning systems (GPS), which allows us to know where every bus is at all times. If problems develop, we can begin corrective actions immediately. We are beginning to provide this real-time information on the status of buses to our customers. Real-time bus information is available on the Metro Transit Internet site, by telephone, and by Blackberry. We will be implementing real-time bus information signs along Marquette and Second Avenues in downtown Minneapolis, at park-and-ride facilities, and at other key locations.

Partnerships have been a critical element in advancing the transit infrastructure elements. We have many partners at the local, state, and federal levels. Nick mentioned Team Transit, which is a first-in-the-nation partnership created 17 years ago involving Mn/DOT, transit providers, cities, and counties. The biggest success of Team Transit is the BOSs. Team Transit has also been effective in implementing ramp meter bypass lanes for buses and other low cost transit advantage projects.

We have a growing partnership with the seven counties in the region. Counties typically take the first steps in transit infrastructure development by conducting alternatives analyses, building community support, and completing environmental work. Counties are also key funding partners. The County Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) was established to distribute the quarter-cent sales tax recently enacted in five counties. CTIB-funded projects must be consistent with the Metropolitan Council’s Transportation Policy Plan.

We are fortunate to have an outstanding working relationship with the FTA that evolved from our on-time, on-budget opening of the Hiawatha LRT line. The success of the Hiawatha line builds confidence for planning and construction future LRT lines.

The third element we are focused on in the region is trip reduction and a reduction in VMT. One of the UPA projects involves promoting telecommuting in the region focusing on an initiative now employed at Best Buy Co., Inc. called Results Only Work Environment (ROWE). Under this program, employees are given goals and deadlines and are empowered to set their own work schedules and agendas in pursuit of those goals. They do not need to report to work every day and may telecommute or work in other locations. As part of the UPA, we will be working to expand to the use of ROWE with other employers in the region.

Under a more traditional program, Metro Transit promotes and manages the region’s travel demand management programs including ridesharing, carpooling, and vanpooling efforts. We maintain an on-line database with more than 10,000 people who want to share rides. This system is used by several local partners. Individuals seeking travel partners get a database match 90 percent of the time.

Similar to automobile drivers, we are seeing our transit customers making use of trip-chaining – making multiple stops per trip. We allow unlimited rides for 2.5 hours with each paid fare. Our transfer rate so far this year is up nearly 5 percent.

We work closely with the four Transportation Management Organizations (TMOs) in the region to promote transportation alternatives in specific geographic areas. The existing TMOs focus on Minneapolis, St. Paul, the I-494 corridor, and Anoka. The TMOs are great partners to promote transit, carpooling and vanpooling, biking, walking, and telecommuting with businesses and employers.

As Arlene mentioned, we are very proud of our partnerships with local communities. Over the past seven years, we have comprehensively realigned transit service in the region in a process we call sector studies. We actively engage local governments and citizens in these studies. We are in the process of completing a restructuring of service in the northwest portion of the region that includes extensive involvement of policymakers, city staff, and citizens. Their input helps to adjust service in accordance with community expectations and development patterns.

Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this session. I hope you have a very productive conference and an enjoyable stay in Minnesota.

The I-394 MnPASS Experience

Ken Buckeye,
Minnesota Department of Transportation

Thank you, Arlene. I would also like to welcome our out-of-town guests to Minnesota. I hope you have the opportunity to see some of the area and I hope you enjoy your stay here.

It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to participate in this session. I will begin by providing an overview of the I-394 HOV project and then discuss the expansion to the MnPASS HOT program. I will highlight some of the innovations included in the MnPASS program and the evaluations completed to-date. I will close by describing the next phase of the project.

I would like to acknowledge the contributions of numerous individuals to the different elements of the I-394 HOV and HOT lanes over the years. The project has truly been a team effort among agencies and among individuals.

Katie Turnbull’s presentation in the opening session set the stage nicely for my comments on the I-394 MnPASS project. She provided a good history of the I-394 HOV project, including the development of the interim and final HOV lanes, the transit components of the project, and the expansion to the MnPASS HOT lanes. The experience on I-394 and the MnPASS program, which represents the first application of tolling in Minnesota, made considering expanding the HOV lanes on I-35W to include a HOT component as part the UPA project easier.

I-394 is a major east-west freeway serving Minneapolis and western suburban communities. The average daily traffic (ADT) is approximately 150,000 vehicles. The I-394 HOT lanes are 11-miles long. The corridor includes a three-mile, two-lane, barrier-separated reversible HOT segment directly to the west of downtown Minneapolis. The two-lane segment ends at Highway 100 and transitions into eight-miles of concurrent flow HOT lanes. This segment had unlimited access during HOV operations. With MnPASS, it has five eastbound and six westbound access points.

HOVs – buses, vanpools, and carpools – continue to use the I-394 HOT lanes for free. A 2+ vehicle-occupancy requirement is used on the facility. Motorcycles are also allowed to use the HOT lane without meeting the vehicle-occupancy requirement. The MnPASS HOT lanes are only tolled in the peak-period, peak-direction of travel. In the morning the HOT lane is tolled in the eastbound direction into downtown Minneapolis. In the afternoon it is tolled in the westbound direction. The reversible section is tolled whenever the facility is open.

As Katie noted, I-394 was the last major segment of the Interstate system to be constructed in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. There was a lot of controversy over the design and the cross-section of the facility. The state legislature ultimately provided guidance on the number of lanes that could be constructed. The HOV lanes were included in the final design to accommodate the anticipated demand within these limitations.

Construction of I-394 began in 1982 and the facility was completed in 1992. An interim HOV lane was used to help manage traffic during construction and to introduce the HOV concept to travelers in the corridor. The concurrent flow lanes operated with the HOV designation in peak periods, peak direction of travel. The lanes were open to general-purpose traffic at other times. The two-lane, barrier separated segment was open extended hours in the morning and afternoon, and closed to all traffic at other times. This segment was also open to HOVs during sporting and special events in downtown Minneapolis.

Although the HOV lanes were well used, there were ongoing concerns that the lanes were underutilized. There was a lot of legislative debate over the facility, even though studies indicated that it carried more peak-period passengers than the adjacent general-purpose freeway lanes. Even though the HOV lanes were performing quite well, there was still an image that the lanes were underutilized. A 2002 study indicated was there was about 50 percent capacity available in the lanes. The study results fueled discussion to covert the HOV lanes to general-purpose freeway lanes.

At the same time, there was a parallel process underway examining the application of congestion pricing in the region. An advisory committee, including legislators, community leaders, mayors, city council members, and interest groups concluded that pricing could have a role to play in addressing traffic congestion in the area.

State legislation in 2003 allowed Mn/DOT to expand any HOV lane in the Twin Cities region to a HOT lane operation. Based on this legislation, Mn/DOT awarded a design, build, and operate contract in 2003 for a HOT project on I-394. MnPASS became operational in 2005.

Four major goals were identified for the MnPASS project. These goals were to improve the efficiency of I-394, to maintain freeflow speed for transit vehicles and carpools, to use the excess revenues to improve highway and transit elements in the corridor, and to employ technologies for pricing and enforcement.

The I-394 MnPASS project included a number of innovations. It represented a public/private partnership for the expansion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes. It represented Minnesota’s first self-funded transportation project. It was also the first HOT application on concurrent flow HOV lanes in the country. The use of multiple access points still allows travelers from communities in the corridor to benefit from the project. MnPASS was the first application of full dynamic pricing on multiple consecutive roadway segments, and featured technology applications to assist in enforcement, including read/write transponders and enforcement readers.

A community task force was formed to assist with planning and implementing the MnPASS project. The task force was charged with providing advice to the Mn/DOT Commissioner on hours of operation, vehicle eligibility, safety and enforcement, access points, traffic operations, transponders, and use of the anticipated revenues. The task force also assisted with public outreach and the evaluation of the project. Many of the task force members toured HOT projects in California as part of the planning process. Overall, the task force helped address numerous issues and became champions for the MnPASS project. The task force also understood that MnPASS was a demonstration project and changes may be needed.

As part of the change from unlimited to limited access, a double white stripe buffer was added between the HOT lane and the adjacent general-purpose freeway lane. A skip stripe is used to designate access/egress points. The electronic tolling technology was also added in the corridor.

The number of annual tolled trips increased during each of the first three years of operation. The first year there were 874,154 recorded toll trips, which translate to approximately 3,300 trips per day. The number of recorded toll trips increased to 908,899 in the second year. In the third year a total of 944,348 trips were recorded. These figures represent an annual growth rate of 3.6 percent to 3.9 percent. The highest usage occurs on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. There is a variation in eastbound and westbound toll trips. There are more eastbound toll trips, which may reflect higher use for work trips into downtown Minneapolis. The slight decline in toll trips in the westbound direction appears to be due to the construction of an auxiliary lane in the corridor.

There has also been a growth in the revenues on the project. Revenues for the first year of MnPASS operation were approximately $575,000. Revenues increased to over $1 million the second year. This past year, revenues reached approximately $1.2 million. The revenue growth between the first and second years of operation represents an 84 percent increase. A much more modest increase of 2.4 percent was realized between the second and third years of operation. The revenue is now covering operating costs. The average toll in the corridor is $1.15, but it varies by direction. The average toll in the eastbound direction is about $1.50 per trip, while the average toll in the westbound direction is close to $0.80 per trip.

Surveys have been conducted to obtain information on user satisfaction and user attributes. Overall, the satisfaction with all aspects of the project has been high. Approximately 95 percent of users reported satisfaction with the electronic tolling technology, 85 percent were satisfied with the traffic speeds in the lane, 76 percent were satisfied with the dynamic pricing, and 66 percent reported satisfaction with the safety of merging into and out of the HOT lanes.

The hours of operation are different for the two-lane reversible section and the concurrent flow section. The weekday operating hours for the concurrent flow section are eastbound from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and westbound from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. The reversible section is open Monday through Friday from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in the eastbound direction and from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 a.m. in the westbound direction. The reversible section is open some weekends for special events in downtown Minneapolis.

Dynamic pricing, based on the level of congestion, is used on the MnPASS lanes. The toll rates during the peak average from a $1.00 to $4.00, with an $8.00 maximum. The off-peak average toll per section is $0.25. The toll is based on traffic conditions in the HOT lane. It is based on data collected by Mn/DOT loop detectors and is updated every three minutes using six-minute averaged data. The toll is set based on a customizable set of rate tables. The existing toll, the level-of-service, and the rate of change determines the new toll. The toll is based on the worst traffic density point downstream of the access.

The operating hours on the concurrent flow section were initially 24/7 in both directions of travel with the implementation of the MnPASS program. This operating scenario represented a significant change from the peak-period, peak-direction of travel during the HOV lane operations. The 24/7 operation caused congestion in the morning in the westbound direction of travel due to high volumes of reverse commuters and the limited access points. There was vocal opposition to the 24/7 operations and a bill was introduced in the legislature to restrict the operating hours. As a result, the operating hours were reduced to the peak-hour, peak direction of travel, similar to the previous HOV operation.

Crash data has been monitored on a regular basis to ensure the safe operation of the facility for HOT lane users and travelers in the general-purpose freeway lanes. The number of annual crashes on I-394 has declined since the opening of MnPASS. The number of crashes declined by approximately 12 percent the first year, 26 percent the second year, and 40 percent the third year. These data reflect crashes throughout the I-394 corridor, not just crashes related to the HOT lane. We are examining the data in more detail to better understand the factors contributing to the decline in crashes.

The peak hour vehicle volumes in the MnPASS lanes increased 9 percent to 33 percent after opening. The total I-394 roadway volumes increased by 5 percent. The entire corridor is operating at a better level-of-service. Travel speeds in the HOT lanes are at least 50 mph 95 percent of the time. Travel speeds on the general-purpose freeway lanes have increased by 2 percent to 15 percent. Transit operators indicate that the access points improve safety for their bus operators and that the HOT lanes remain free flowing.

Use of the HOT lanes by buses, carpools, and vanpools has increased. From 2006 to 2008, the number of buses operating in the HOT lanes increase by 16 percent and the number of bus riders increased by 25 percent. The number of vanpools and carpools, and the number of carpool and vanpool passengers increased by approximately 25 percent over the same time period.

Enforcement is one of the keys to the successful operation of a HOT lane. The Minnesota State Patrol is responsible for enforcing the I-394 HOT lanes. The use of advanced technologies to support enforcement is one of the innovative elements of the MnPASS project. A mobile enforcement reader located in State Patrol vehicles allows offices to determine if a single-occupant vehicle in the HOT lanes has a valid transponder. Visual enforcement of vehicle-occupancy requirements is still conducted.

State Patrol officers stopped approximately 3,300 vehicles in the first year of HOT operation, 5,200 vehicles the second year, and 4,900 vehicles the third year. Approximately half of these stops involved either not having at least two people in a vehicle to meet the carpool requirement or illegally crossing the double white lines. The violation rates on the I-394 HOT lanes are much lower than the violation rates on the I-35W HOV lanes.

The experience with the MnPASS project on I-394 indicates that adding a HOT component does make better use of an existing HOV lane, further providing HOV and HOT options for travelers. Public acceptance of the MnPASS project is high. The general-purpose freeway lanes also operate better. The success of the I-394 MnPASS project has created additional opportunities, including the UPA project expanding the HOV lanes on I-35W to HOT lanes.

The next phase of the MnPASS project represents an extension of the original project vision. Further improvements will be made to enhance the operation of the facility and to increase efficiency. The MnPASS model focuses on creating synergy with the facility design, transit advantages, and land use integration.

November 2009
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