The Minnesota Department of Transportation is ditching MnPass and switching to an electronic toll collection system used in 18 other states.
The change, which MnDOT officials have been preparing for since 2015, will allow drivers to use one device to pay tolls in Minnesota and elsewhere, satisfying customer demand and bringing the state in line with others including Illinois, Indiana, Florida and several states on the East Coast and in the Northeast.
"This will make travel easier for folks," said MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher at a news conference Thursday. "This will add a lot of value for folks."
The switch from MnPass to E-Z Pass is scheduled for Aug. 2. MnDOT will pay Delaware-based E-Z Pass $20,000 a year for membership and can opt out at any time, said Brian Kary, MnDOT's director of traffic operations.
MnDOT has operated its own toll collection system since opening its first high occupancy toll lane on I-394 in 2005. Since then, MnPass has grown to three such lanes with a fourth set to open next month and a fifth to be built between 2023 and 2026.
Drivers made more than 1.1 million express lane trips a year before the pandemic hit. Though usage has been down since, MnPass still has 49,000 account holders and MnDOT has issued about 72,000 tags, the agency said.
A "high rate" of MnPass account holders, including Anderson Kelliher, also have E-Z Pass accounts. "It's been a common request" that Minnesota join the multistate tolling program, which will allow travelers to use the same pass when making trips to Chicago and points east, the commissioner said.
In recent years, MnDOT has prepared for the change when installing new tag readers and upgrading systems. There has been a push nationally to create systems with interoperability, or the ability to share information, Kary said.
E-Z Pass, which bills itself as the largest interoperable toll collection program in the world, has more than 27 million account holders and has issued more than 43 million tags. The company accounts for nearly 40% of all U.S. toll transactions and nearly 70% of all U.S. toll revenue, according to its website.
Current MnPass customers should not see much of a change. They can continue using their current tags to pay tolls in Minnesota but will need to request a new tag — at no charge — that will work in other states. Drivers from other states will be able to use their tags in Minnesota.
Like MnPass, E-Z Pass deducts a toll when drivers pass an antenna or reader that electronically charges a fee.
MnPass lanes are free for motorcycles, buses and carpools carrying two or more people during peak periods, which run from 6 to 10 a.m. and 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays. Solo motorists with transponders can use the lanes for a fee that ranges between 25 cents and $8 depending on the number of vehicles and speeds in the lane. The average fee per trip in 2019 was $1.69, MnDOT said. Outside peak periods, all motorists can use the lanes without having to pay.
MnPass Express Lanes are designed to provide consistent travel times by keeping motorists moving at speeds above 45 mph for 90% of the time or more during peak travel times. Vehicles in MnPass lanes travel at speeds above 45 mph approximately 93% of the time, MnDOT said.
Signs announcing the change to E-Z Pass started going up Thursday as MnDOT nears completion of the metro's newest high occupancy toll lane on Interstate 35W from Roseville to Blaine.
The 16-mile E-Z Pass lane through the northern suburbs is part of a larger project that features eight new bridges, 135 miles of pavement and upgraded utilities.
"We are excited about the investment in the north metro," said Blaine Mayor Tim Sanders.
Tim Harlow • 612-673-7768