Driverless buses are not going to run on the roads any time soon, but if and when they do, Minnesotans seem keen on the idea.

That’s what the Minnesota Department of Transportation found out when they asked for feedback from the 1,300 people who took a free ride in an autonomous electric-powered shuttle before the Super Bowl.

For a vast majority of the riders, the trip along one block of Nicollet Mall was their first experience with a driverless vehicle. After taking the ride, 84 percent say they look forward to this future mode of public transportation.

“Hurry up and get these things in our city,” one responder wrote. “Can’t wait for the future.”

In due time. There’s lots of work to be done before the self-driving vehicle could roll down Nicollet Mall or other downtown streets, said MnDOT’s Autonomous Bus Project manager Jay Hietpas.

That includes things like fine-tuning the technology, determining the type of infrastructure that needs to be in place and looking into what, if any, state laws governing motor vehicles might need to be changed.

MnDOT has been testing the vehicle at its road research facility in Monticello, mainly to see how the bus operates without direct driver input to control the steering, acceleration and braking in the state’s harsh winter conditions.

As part of that testing, MnDOT trotted the bus out during Super Bowl week to show the public how it works. The vehicle can carry up to 12 people at a time.

More than 95 percent of those who rode the bus said they felt safe, despite the absence of anyone at the controls. “I’m for it if keeps people safer,” one rider said.

With 400 or more Minnesotans killed on the roads annually, and 90 percent of crashes caused by human error, “we hope this helps get people home safely,” Hietpas said.

If you missed the test rides in January, you’ll get another chance this spring.

Hennepin County is studying how this emerging technology can complement other forms of transportation and enhance connections to major transitways. As part of its inquiry, the County Board on Thursday approved spending $50,000 for a demonstration along the Midtown Greenway.

On Earth Day weekend, April 20-22, the county will offer free public rides in the self-driving vehicle along a two- to three-block stretch of the greenway, running on one lane of the existing bicycle and pedestrian trail.

A human operator will be on board to take over, if needed. The shuttle will travel no more than 12 miles per hour.

Endless wall project on I-35W

Every month or so, the Drive gets a question about that construction project on the west side of Interstate 35W south of Lake Street, where a section of the noise wall has been removed and a big crane and pipe rises into the sky.

“I think it’s the longest ongoing construction project since the pyramids,” reader Dan commented. “Do you know what this is?”

Since 2015, MnDOT has been repairing a tunnel that transfers drainage from 5 square miles of Minneapolis near I-35W/I-94 to the Mississippi River. A new tunnel was installed to provide access to the existing tunnel.

Work was done mostly during winters to minimize chances of having the tunnel fill with water while workers are there, MnDOT said.

The project should be done by spring.


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