Mn/DOT and the Metropolitan Council are in the middle of the process of updating their transportation policy plan for the Twin Cities region. It's expected the Metropolitan Council (the Transportation Management Organization for the Twin Cities region) will adopt the plan this Fall (go here for the draft plan and the open house/public hearing schedule if you want to be involved).
I saw a good presentation yesterday by Carl Ohrn from the Metropolitan Council on the topic (Paul Czech from Mn/DOT was also there and helped answer questions). This update is a little peculiar since they adopted a 20 year plan last year. Basically, they are revising the plan because the Federal Highway Administration pointed out the plan adopted in 2009 wasn't balanced. The plan from 2009 pointed out a need of $3 billion in funds needed to expand the highway system to keep up with projected congestion, but listed a plan based on only having about a $1 billion available.
So to balance the needs/expenditures, the new plan is more aggressive about strategies to live with the projected $1 billion available. They're not going to spend much on expanding the freeway/highway system since those projects typically costs hundreds of millions each (some cross the billion mark). A lot of the money will go to maintenance and updating bridges. The remaining money will go to inexpensive tweaks that have high benefit ratios, such as:
- Adding more managed lanes such as the MnPASS/bus lanes on I-394 and I-35W.
- Improving signal systems (adding better computer communications and updating the signal timing plans).
- Fixing bottlenecks the way they did a few years ago on Highway 100 (bending standards so they can make expansions within the existing public right-of-way – the land already owned for the roads).
- Promoting more dense development to switch travel away from single occupant vehicles and build systems to promote transit, biking, walking, and not driving during rush hour.
Outside of seeing through the upgrading of the I-494/US 169 interchange, finishing 610 to I-94, and adding some capacity to I35E north of downtown St. Paul, don't expect new/wider highways. Mn/DOT still has a long list of expansions that could be made if they found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, but the three projects just listed more than tap out the projected funding (and there's no guarantee they'll happen if they run over budget).
This is a very novel approach to managing a region's traffic and could
be a model for the rest of the country. Let's hope it works.
Like all compromises, you can choose to be an optimist or a pessimist. I'll choose optimism…. this fiscal conservative is happy we have a sensible plan to live within our means. However, I hope I can continue to make a living as a traffic engineer. I have a better shot than the highway designers in my industry.