University research may reduce traffic

MnDOT partnered with the University of Minnesota for Interstate 35E.

by Jonathan Tvedt

University of Minnesota research, performed as part of a Minnesota Department of Transportation road project, could eventually help ease traffic congestion in the Twin Cities. 
The University conducted the research to assist in MnDOT’s long-term goal of reducing heavy highways traffic by increasing access to MnPASS lanes — a service that allows single motorists to access express lanes around the Twin Cities for a fee. 
New lanes are in their first stages of construction on Interstate 35E in St. Paul. The project is scheduled to finish in December. 
“MnPASS is a key part of the regional transportation policy plan,” said Brad Larsen, MnDOT’s MnPASS policy and program director. “This is the beginning of a vision for a Twin Cities-wide MnPASS plan.”
By 2040, he said the goal is to have seven similar MnPASS segments completed. 
The additional MnPASS lanes on Interstate 35E, which will open in segments, will include service from downtown St. Paul to Little Canada Road in 2015 and eventually to County Road J in 2016.
The selection of Interstate 35E as the next segment for extension was the result of research done by the University’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Center for Changing Landscapes. 
“The University played multiple key roles in the project,” Larsen said. “The Humphrey school [provided] project management for the overall study and coordination for the project.”
The Center for Changing Landscapes became involved because it was looking at ways to improve transit use and carpooling, he said.
The changes will better utilize St. Paul’s infrastructure and decrease the congestion in the interstate’s corridor in the Twin Cities. A study by MnDOT found that better access and control of services like MnPASS could decrease traffic congestion in the region. 
“There was a need to increase [MnPASS].” said Bobbie Dahlke, a public affairs specialist for MnDOT. 
The service has grown since its debut in 2008, and while data on its projected growth following the extension isn’t available, the department still expects to see a rise in the use of MnPASS, she said. 
The benefits of increased MnPASS lanes will be felt by University commuters as more segments are completed, Larsen said. He said the idea is to spread the higher amount of congestion on highways across more lanes as well as an increased emphasis on carpool lanes.