The Washington County Board gave its blessings last week to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's plan to bring MnPASS to the east metro.

The 4-0 vote came as MnDOT is preparing to add special express lanes to help alleviate congestion on Interstate 35E between downtown St. Paul and Little Canada Road in 2013. Board members approved a resolution at the request of MnDOT, which wanted express approval before going ahead with the $80 million project.

"It was important to get that for 35E and future [MnPASS] lanes that might come," said Brad Larsen, MnPASS policy manager. "We wanted to reach out to all jurisdictions along the corridor who have people who live in it or would use the corridor. This is a new project for those areas. We wanted clear support to do them and to keep us from having a setback [later]."

MnDOT plans to make a presentation to the Ramsey County Board on Tuesday.

The new MnPASS lanes on 35E would be similar to those already in use on Interstates 35W and 394. During rush hours, buses, motorcyclists and vehicles carrying two or more people can use the lanes for free. Solo drivers can pay a fee to use them. The lanes are open to all motorists at no cost during non-peak times and on weekends.

MnPASS lanes debuted in 2005. About 23,000 people have transponders that are used to deduct tolls electronically, according to MnDOT data. The lanes run on I-394 from downtown Minneapolis to Wayzata and on I-35W from downtown Minneapolis to Lakeville.

Over the next few years, MnDOT also plans to extend the MnPASS lane from Little Canada Road to County Road 96 in White Bear Lake, replace bridges and rehab pavement between downtown St. Paul and County Road 14 in Hugo and build park-and-ride lots at County Road 14 and at County Road E in Vadnais Heights. In total, MnDOT has allocated $261 million for the upgrades that are expected to be completed by 2015.

MnDOT chose to add the high-occupancy vehicles lanes on 35E because it sees an average of six hours of congestion daily, because of its aging bridges and pavement and transit demand, according to a presentation shown to Washington County commissioners in February.

As part of its long range transportation plans, MnDOT and the Metropolitan Council would like to add the lanes to other busy highways in the metro area, including the sections of Interstates 94 and 694 and Hwy. 36 that pass through Washington County.