The state’s plans to add restricted-access MnPass lanes on Interstate 35W are a bad deal for north metro residents, said members of one city council.
The Lino Lakes City Council held off giving the Minnesota Department of Transportation municipal consent for the 35W expansion project, which would add a MnPass lane in each direction from Roseville to Blaine, at its Aug. 22 meeting.
City leaders met with MnDOT officials Tuesday to try to hash out a deal where the city could give partial approval for the $208 million project, including for resurfacing the roadway, building sound walls and adding the badly needed lanes, while making clear that it objects to them being high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. Technically, the 35W MnPass lanes will end before they reach Lino Lakes, but the resurfacing and sound walls parts of the project stretch into Lino Lakes.
“I’m not sure if it’s settled yet. We proposed changes to the resolution, and MnDOT didn’t like the changes,” said Mayor Jeff Reinert in an e-mail.
Both sides are going back to their attorneys to see if they can make this work, said Lino Lakes City Administrator Jeff Karlson.
Reinert led the opposition at the August council meeting, saying MnPass lanes could be the first step toward toll roads. Solo drivers must pay to use MnPass lanes during peak drive times.
“I am dead against MnPass. In other cities in the country like Chicago it probably costs $40 to drive through that town. This is a disease coming to the Twin Cities metropolitan area where you have to pay to drive the roads that taxpayers paid for,” Reinert said.
MNDot’s project planner said research shows that MnPass lanes promote investment in mass transit.
“If we built a general-purpose lane, it will become congested in 20 years,” said MnDOT Project Manager Jerome Adams. MnPass lanes lengthen that timeline, he said.
The MnPass lanes added to 35W between Minneapolis and Burnsville in 2009 are a proven success. MnDOT hopes to replicate that in the north.
“Since those lanes were installed, many park-and-rides have been built. Bus service went way up. It’s been a real success story,” Adams said.
A section of 35W between County Roads H and I now handles 143,000 vehicles per day and the traffic count is forecast to climb to 190,400 by 2040.
MnDOT is seeking consent from all eight cities affected by the project.
So far, Blaine, Arden Hills, New Brighton and Lexington have approved the project. Approval is still pending from Lino Lakes, Mounds View, Roseville and Shoreview.
The due date for the cities to grant municipal consent is Oct. 30. MnDOT hopes to start construction in 2018.
Blaine Mayor Tom Ryan said getting the additional lanes was the highest priority.
“It was the only way we could get the extra lanes and get the support to do it,” Ryan said. “It isn’t ideal, but it’s reality.”