The Twin Cities Metropolitan Area, encompassing Minneapolis and St. Paul, will be converting narrow bus-only shoulder lanes along the northbound portion of Interstate 35W between 46th Street and downtown Minneapolis to wider priced dynamic shoulder lanes (PDSL), and will be moving these lanes from the right-most to the left-most portion of the roadway to minimize conflict with entering vehicles. Buses and high-occupancy vehicles will operate at no charge in the PDSLs with access allowed during peak times to single-occupant vehicles whose drivers are willing to pay the toll, with prices set to ensure free-flow travel. PDSLs will enable bus speeds to increase to 50 mph from the current bus-only shoulder lane speeds of 35 mph or less. In the longer term, the goal is to convert as many miles as possible of Minnesota's existing 260-mile bus-only shoulder lane network to PDSLs.
The plan is for the PDSLs to link up with new, dynamically-priced high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate I-35W, created by converting the existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes which extend from approximately I-494 to the Burnsville Parkway, and also to extend these HOT lanes through the Crosstown Commons between I-494 and 46th Street. The end result will then be a new 15-mile, dynamically-priced managed-lane corridor, speeding bus and HOV trips and also providing motorists a new option to experience a fast and reliable trip. This is an especially important corridor, as it connects downtown Minneapolis with multiple communities to the south, and provides access to the Bloomington Strip, Mall of America, Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport, and the University of Minnesota.
In addition to new transit accommodations and services, described below, toll revenues will be used in part to provide transit riders significant fare discounts for trips using the newly-priced facilities during peak periods. On the roadway in advance of transit hubs, and also through pre-existing traveler information channels, information about transit alternatives will be presented to allow direct comparisons with the time and cost of the driving alternatives.
To create and manage the PDSLs, the Minnesota Department of Transportation will use many advanced technologies. To ensure proper and safe lane usage, dynamic lane assignment technology— including LED arrows, in-pavement markings, and the like—will direct motorists precisely to the appropriate sections of the roadway. A novel University of Minnesota system providing direct feedback to bus drivers using shoulder lanes, which has been successfully tested, will be extended to cover the new PDSLs. New dynamic message signs and some of the existing dynamic message signs (Minnesota currently has 85 of such signs in use) will inform travelers about the availability of the lanes for non-bus use, toll rates when the lanes are available, travel speeds on the priced lanes versus on the general-purpose lanes, and also transit alternatives (i.e., park-and-ride) to driving on the priced lanes. Electronic signage will also provide substantial information about arterial travel alternatives to freeways for drivers trying to avoid priced freeways and to bypass incidences.
In and around the affected I-35W corridor, transit will be enhanced substantially and a bus rapid transit (BRT) network will be created. Additional transit vehicles will be purchased, the single contra-flow bus lane in downtown Minneapolis on Marquette and 2nd Avenue will be converted to dual lanes (and new bus shelters and other amenities will be provided), new BRT stations will be built, a bus ramp at an important interchange (TH-62 and TH-77) will be added, priority for transit vehicles at signalized intersections will be implemented, and electronic signs at stations will project bus arrival times based upon real-time data. For travelers accessing transit by car, 1,400 additional park-and-ride spaces will be created and new electronic signage will be deployed indicating current space availability and parking alternatives. The dual contra-flow bus lanes in downtown Minneapolis are expected to triple bus throughput over the single lane and reduce bus travel times by an average of a full ten minutes for the 665 express buses now entering downtown Minneapolis during the morning commute period, as well as for the additional buses purchased under the Urban Partnership Agreement that will also serve downtown.
The Regional Transportation Management Center will deploy various technologies and oversee a host of efforts to improve highway operations in the I-35W / TH-77 corridor. These improvements may include improved traffic signal operations, enhanced real-time traffic monitoring and traveler information.
The final element of the Minnesota Urban Partnership Agreement is telecommuting. This locally-funded effort will focus on expanding upon the successful Results-Only Work Environment (ROWE) program, where employers agree to evaluate employee results, in lieu of requiring physical presence at the worksite at specific times, and provide employees the flexibility to telecommute or shift their hours to avoid congested commutes. Approximately 75 percent of Best Buy's 4,500 corporate office employees participate in ROWE. Large employers in the priced corridor (the overall region is home to 20 Fortune 500 companies and 33 Fortune 1000 companies) will be targeted for participation, with the goal of reducing 500 daily peak-period trips through the corridor.