The Minnesota Department of Transportation's $18 million, 2-mile extension of the MnPass lanes to Southcross Drive in Burnsville is open.
Commuter Patrick Steele of Lakeville was floored by the change in his bus trip last week.
"It used to take upwards of a half hour to get from Lakeville to the [Minnesota] River, but this week it has taken no more than 10 minutes," said Steele.
Two years of construction brought the congestion-free lane for buses, carpools and toll-paying solo drivers much closer to the Kenrick Avenue Park & Ride in Lakeville, where Steele boards the Metro Transit 467 bus for downtown Minneapolis.
Eliminating the time it took for drivers to fight their way through 2 miles of rush-hour traffic just to reach Burnsville Parkway, where they could enter the express lane, will be an added incentive for people to ride the bus or join carpools, Steele said.
That is why the Minnesota Department of Transportation spent nearly $18 million to extend the lane, said freeway operations engineer Brian Kary.
Previously, about 3,000 vehicles -- 1,800 of them carpoolers -- used the northbound MnPass lane daily during the morning peak period, Kary said. He looks for that number to rise now that the lane is longer.
"By adding this additional mileage onto the lane we are giving users a greater advantage," Kary said. Traffic in the regular lanes typically backs up daily in the 2 miles south of Burnsville Parkway. Average trip time savings by getting into the MnPass lane 2 miles sooner will be 10 to 15 minutes, and more during bad weather, Kary said.
Saving time or even having a consistent trip is an attraction for commuters, and "we are hoping it will encourage more people to become carpoolers or take transit or become a MnPass customer," Kary said.
About 800 riders of 10 Metro Transit bus trips to and from the Kenrick Park and Ride lot in Lakeville each day will benefit from the new lanes.
MnPass express lanes also are open for free use by carpoolers and motorcycle riders and for a price by solo drivers who open a toll account and pay electronically.
Signs displaying the variable toll to use the lanes will not be working in the new segment until spring. Drivers who use the lane going north in the morning will see the price at Burnsville Parkway. The average price for the morning trip will be $1.25, MnDOT said.
For information on how to open a MnPass account, go to www.mnpass.net.
Laurie Blake • 952-746-3287