Study: Tolls won't cover cost of lanes in Twin Cities

| 10/1/2004

Traffic backups in the Twin Cities metropolitan area can be bad – but not bad enough to prompt a lot of drivers to pay to drive in congestion-free toll lanes, according to early findings of a consulting study.

As a result, the optional pay lanes proposed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty would not pay for themselves, the $474,000 study found.

Cambridge Systematics Inc., the Massachusetts consultants hired by the Minnesota Department of Transportation, will give a full public report by February on how Minnesota could proceed with toll lanes as a way to expand roads and relieve congestion.

Looking for an answer to increasingly congested roads and seeking to boost the state’s road-building budget without raising the fuel tax, Pawlenty and Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau announced in December that the state would consider privately built lanes financed with tolls.

Molnau, who also is the state transportation commissioner, said she is undeterred by the early findings.

“We knew we would have to put up a percentage” of the cost, she told The Minneapolis Star Tribune. The full study will reveal how much.

She said tolls were one way to have users voluntarily chip in for new lanes that are needed. And having private firms put up some of the initial costs of construction would leave the highway department with money to spend on other projects, she said.

The consultants are studying proposals including radial toll lanes that would provide travel from all four sides of the metro into Minneapolis and St. Paul; two versions of tolls on extra lanes added to the Interstate 494-694 beltway; pay lanes on 10 freeway segments where congestion is especially bad; and tolls collected on four future busways.

The earliest construction would start is 2006.

Much closer to realization is a plan to turn the existing carpool-bus lanes on Interstate 394 west of Minneapolis into toll lanes. Those lanes, which are expected to open in the spring, would enable solo drivers to pay a fee to use an express lane with carpoolers and bus riders.