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

Katie Turnbull, Texas Transportation Institute, Presiding

Innovative Transportation Partnerships in Minnesota

Peter Bell, Chairman,
Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities

I want to join in welcoming you to the Twin Cities. I know you have already heard from several local speakers. You will be hearing from many more about some of the specific transportation projects and partnerships in our region. I will attempt to provide an overview and some historical context to transportation partnerships in the Twin Cities.

As you may have already learned, the Metropolitan Council is heavily involved in transit and transportation. As the MPO for our region, we work closely with Mn/DOT and local officials on the development of the long-range transportation plan, as well as programming federal transportation funds. We operate both Metro Transit, which provides more than 90 percent of the region’s regular-route transit service, and Metro Mobility, which provides transportation for individuals with special needs.

Before I talk about HOV and HOT lanes, I should briefly describe the Metropolitan Council and what we do. The Council was created in 1967 to plan for the orderly development of the seven-county metropolitan area and to coordinate the delivery of certain public services that could best be provided at the regional level. The Council consists of 17 members appointed by the governor – 16 from geographic districts of equal size and a chair who serves at large.

In 1994 we were given operating responsibilities for public transportation and wastewater collection and treatment. Almost overnight, we grew from a planning agency with a few hundred employees to one of Minnesota’s largest governmental agencies, with approximately 3,700 employees and an operating budget of approximately $700 million a year.

Our region has a long history of cooperation and involvement in providing financial and travel-time incentives to HOVs and transit. In 1971, the region first began implementing ramp meters and HOV bypass lanes on the entrance ramps to I-35W south of downtown Minneapolis. This system has since been expanded to include virtually the entire freeway system.

The first freeway express buses began operating at the same time, operating on I-35W between Bloomington and downtown Minneapolis. In the 1980s, the design and construction of I-394 west of downtown Minneapolis included diamond lanes and a reversible, dedicated HOV lane. The project included new express bus service with suburban transit stations and park-and-ride facilities, as well as three downtown parking garages with special low rates for carpools using the HOV lanes. In the mid 1990s, HOV lanes were added to I-35W south of I-494.

A hallmark of regional cooperation is Team Transit, which is a partnership between Metro Transit, Mn/DOT, the Metropolitan Council, the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, other transit providers, and counties and municipalities in the metropolitan area. Team Transit officially came into being in 1991. Team Transit is responsible for planning and coordinating roadway improvements for transit. Examples of improvements include bus shoulders, HOV lanes, park-and-ride lots, and HOV bypass lanes at freeway ramp meters.

The first BOS lane was tested in 1991 on Highway 252 north of downtown Minneapolis. In 1993, the first general use of a shoulder lane occurred on Highway 77 in Bloomington as an emergency measure to reduce congestion caused by flooding of the Minnesota River. The success of shoulder lanes on arterial streets and on Highway 77 served as the catalyst for implementing such facilities on other highways in the region.

Since the early 1990s, the region has developed an extensive system of BOS lanes, with more than 270 directional miles of shoulder lanes currently in operation. A 2007 FTA study on the effectiveness of our bus-shoulder system reported that the total number of shoulder-lane miles in the Twin Cities was 10 times that of the remainder of the country combined.

While the success of the I-394 HOV lanes was evident for transit and carpoolers, the capacity of the HOV lanes was not fully utilized even after a decade of operation. After an earlier local initiative to convert the HOV lanes to general-purpose lanes failed, the I-394 HOV lanes were converted to HOT lanes as part of the MnPASS initiative by Mn/DOT.

This HOV-to-HOT expansion was a major test for the region. It is fair to say transit operators were concerned about losing freeflow travel conditions, as well as the ability for buses and automobiles to safely merge in the designated access segments.

Through a vigorous process with transit providers and the local community, including local elected officials as well as community and business representatives, operational issues were vetted and addressed. Because of that process, we have a successful HOT lane on I-394 today.

I-394 toll revenues generate enough today to essentially fund the MnPASS operating costs – a break-even situation so to speak. So, even though the Legislature directed 50 percent of excess toll revenue to fund increases in transit service in the corridor, that revenue has not yet materialized.

The experience with the I-394 HOT lane prompted Mn/DOT and the Metropolitan Council to explore tolling as an innovative approach to congestion relief for the regional freeway system. The study found that an interconnected system of MnPASS toll lanes would be an effective congestion management tool, not a revenue-generating device. Moreover, it found public investment is required, since MnPASS lanes are not expected to recover their full capital cost. As a result of this finding, Mn/DOT and the Council executed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2006 that all future highway expansion studies would consider the option of a managed lane.

The success of the I-394 HOT lane laid the groundwork for our UPA project. With a $133 million grant from the USDOT, we will convert an existing HOV segment on I-35W, as well as an under-construction HOV segment, to HOT lanes and implement a new idea we call a PDSL.

I view the PDSL as the next evolution of HOT lanes – where we use the shoulder capacity rather than a new or expanded general-purpose freeway lane for pricing. Mn/DOT, working closely with FHWA, is leading this highway improvement, which will provide a continuous priced lane option from the suburban area south of the Minnesota River to downtown Minneapolis.

We are very appreciative of the USDOT for selecting our region for a UPA grant and applaud the innovation demonstrated by Mn/DOT. Our expectation is that this priced shoulder lane will offer a new transportation solution to congestion to the entire nation. We look forward to its opening in September 2009.

While we have accomplished a great deal in this region, it has not been without both challenges and partnerships along the way. The public continues to be suspicious of private partnerships in funding and/or owning tolled roads. Some would say this would be letting the camel’s nose get under the tent.

Many, including our own Minnesota Congressman and Chair of the House Transportation Committee, resist tolling and make some valid points. For example, there is a concern about whether a basic “public good,” such as a road, should belong to a private company, possibly even one that is foreign-owned.

Then there are those who argue for more intensive tolling. When trying to decide on our UPA proposal, some lobbied for conversion of existing general-purpose lanes to tolled lanes on I-35W. This is much more controversial because it represents a “take-away” to the general public. Pricing of new capacity is much less controversial.

In Minnesota, local units of government have a statutory “municipal consent” approval for highway improvements located in their communities. Gaining municipal consent was a challenge for the I-35W HOV segment now under construction in south Minneapolis. The city wanted a transit solution, such as a busway, rather than the proposed HOV lanes also used by carpools, and denied granting municipal consent. Final resolution required lengthy negotiation and ultimately mediation to reach the HOV solution.

As with all metropolitan areas, many differing opinions exist among the numerous stakeholders. Partnerships are essential to work through the many differing opinions and legitimate issues. We have many successful partnerships in this region at the state, county, and local levels.

The Council and Mn/DOT have a long-standing history of cooperation and partnerships that would be the envy of most state departments of transportation and MPOs in the country. The UPA project is a most recent example, with numerous partners involved. Particularly interesting is that the UPA parties all readily agreed to the HOT lane upgrade for the same I-35W freeway segment that had the lengthy municipal consent process for a HOV lane.

Other examples of partnerships include construction of the region’s first light rail line, the Hiawatha line, which was constructed by Mn/DOT while being owned and operated by the Metropolitan Council. The region’s first commuter rail line, the Northstar line, is under construction now.

Thank you very much for this opportunity to speak to you about the Metropolitan Council and the transportation partnerships in the Twin Cities. I hope you enjoy the conference and your time in Minnesota.

November 2009
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