MnPASS System Study

Minnesota Department of Transportation

Objective

Evaluate the potential for a system of express toll lanes (MnPASS lanes) in the Twin Cities region. MnPASS lanes could be conversions of existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, or construction of new capacity adjacent to existing highways with dynamically priced tolls.

Project Overview/Challenge

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) was interested in developing express toll lanes as projects that would be fully funded by private developers at no cost to the State, with the developers having the right to collect tolls over a long period of time. Express toll lanes had been developed successfully in other parts of the United States and there was a high expectation that such lanes could alleviate the state of the need to raise additional funds for major transportation improvements in a congested urban region. The fast-paced study addressed the multiple objectives of Mn/DOT to provide a new funding source for capacity enhancements and provide a new transportation “product” that always will be congestion-free through pricing. As it became clear that such toll lanes would not likely be 100 percent self-supporting, the focus of the effort turned to developing policies related to express toll lane development.

Our Approach

The study evaluated all of the major highways and arterials in the Twin Cities area. After an initial round of screening using measures such as current and future hours of congestion and constructability for particular segments of the system, more detailed analysis was done on those system segments with the most promise as toll lanes. Cambridge Systematics worked closely with a steering committee made up of elected officials and stakeholders, whereby these representatives of the public became educated about issues surrounding express toll lanes. We also developed new travel demand modeling techniques to address time-of-day variations in small increments.

Project Results

The MnPASS System Study found that:

  • MnPASS lanes are a new transportation “product” that can provide a congestion-free alternative through the use of pricing. MnPASS users enjoy significant time savings but nonusers also are expected to benefit.
  • Public investment would be required to develop MnPASS lanes, since typical segments are estimated to recover 15 to 55 percent of their capital cost – on average, only 22 percent. Although not self-sustaining, new revenue from tolls could contribute to closing the transportation program funding gap.
  • The HOT lanes currently operating on I‑394 and the conversion of HOV lanes to HOT lanes evaluated in this study on I‑35W are expected to fill up with HOV traffic by 2030. Since HOVs are not tolled in HOT lanes, these lanes would have little room for paying vehicles. The long-term success of the HOT lane concept may require a change in the HOV definition, such as changing the definition from HOV2+ to HOV3+. Such a change in definition may be required whether or not HOT lanes are considered.

As a result of this study, Mn/DOT and the Metropolitan Council signed a memorandum of understanding to “actively consider MnPASS lanes for all future highway expansion projects in congested corridors,” adopting the policy framework recommended by Cambridge Systematics and the MnPASS System Study Steering Committee.

The MnPASS System Study report can be viewed here.