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 moving minnesota through employee communication
 March 6, 2002
No. 51 
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This week's top stories
HOV study shows significant time and cost savings for peak-hour commuters
"Budget-balancing" bill falls short, reduces funding for transit
Future LRT station changes current map of downtown Minneapolis
Motor Carrier Services improves service to its customers
 HOV study shows significant time and cost savings for peak-hour commuters

I-394 HOV lanes

This portion of I-394 in Minneapolis features two reversible HOV lanes separated from the main freeway lanes. Photo by Neil Kveberg

Based on a consultant’s computer modeling study, Mn/DOT will continue operating its high occupancy vehicle lanes on I-394 and I-35W in the Twin Cities metro area. Mn/DOT commissioned the study to determine the short- and long-range implications of opening the exclusive HOV lanes to all traffic.

The study showed that the lanes are carrying about half their capacity.

Authors of the study said that opening the lanes to all traffic would provide short-term congestion relief but would undermine Mn/DOT’s policies and strategies designed to encourage the use of carpools and transit to offset growing vehicular traffic in the region, said Paul Czech, a planning supervisor with the Metro Division.

Though operating below capacity, the lanes provide significant time and cost savings to commuters who use them, especially during peak commuting hours.

The study notes, for example, that between 7 and 8 a.m. on I-394, the HOV lanes carry 3,053 people per lane compared with 2,076 people per lane in the general-purpose lanes.

Cambridge Systematics, Inc., a Massachusetts firm, conducted the study.

Czech adds that opening the lanes now would make it very difficult to reclaim them for HOV use in the future and would break the faith with current HOV lane users who are highly supportive of the concept. He said opening the lanes would be detrimental to Mn/DOT’s "Advantages for Transit" strategic direction and make it difficult to support other congestion-relief practices in the future.

Current HOV lanes operate on I-394 between Minnetonka and Minneapolis and on I-35W. The southbound HOV lane on I-35W runs from 66th Street to Hwy 13; the northbound lane runs from Burnsville Parkway to 86th Street.

Mn/DOT will work with the Federal Highway Administration to find ways to make better use of the existing HOV lanes, said Bob Winter, acting Metro Division engineer.

Methods that could be used, the report states, include barrier separations instead of the "diamond" markings on the I-35W lanes, stricter enforcement of having at least two people in a vehicle including higher fines for violators and increasing efforts to encourage more single-occupant vehicle drivers to use transit and carpools.

"Keeping the HOV lanes in operation provides one option for commuters to save time and money. The HOV lanes also provide one method to cope with the additional traffic congestion that rapid growth in the Twin Cities region will cause and support long-range, multi-modal efforts such as light rail transit and bus-only lanes needed to manage growing traffic congestion in the region," Winter said.

By Craig Wilkins


 "Budget-balancing" bill falls short, reduces funding for transit

Funding for Greater Minnesota transit, railroads, waterways and aeronautics will be reduced under the budget bill that see-sawed last week between the Legislature and the governor before becoming law Feb. 28 when the House and Senate overrode the governor’s veto.

The measure also—with some exceptions—freezes state hiring and use of consultant contracts through June 30, 2003.

Intended to fill the projected $1.95 billion gap in the state’s FY 2003 budget, the budget measure was passed before the Department of Finance released a revised budget forecast on Feb. 25 that increased the biennium deficit to $2.3 billion.

Only two percent of Mn/DOT’s budget comes from the state’s General Fund. The rest—$1.9 billion—comes from the trunk highway fund.

"The effect on MnDOT of the legislative budget bill versus the governor’s bill is not as significant from a financial perspective as it likely is from an operational view," said Kevin Gray, Mn/DOT’s chief financial officer.

Financially, he said, the legislative plan reduces Greater Minnesota transit by $400,000 and cuts relatively small amounts in other areas, including $60,000 from railroads and waterways and $50,000 from aeronautics. These cuts are effective for both the FY 2003 budget and for the base budget. Moving Minnesota money, the one-time appropriation of $459 million by the 2000 Legislature for transportation projects, is not affected.

The governor's original budget proposal did not reduce any transit program funds, but was more aggressive in identifying administrative cuts to the Trunk Highway Fund. Among other features, the governor’s proposal would have returned $245 million of the Moving Minnesota appropriation to the General Fund and increased the gas tax by five cents per gallon.

Operationally, Gray said, the measure enacts a hiring freeze—except for positions that are "necessary to perform essential government services." The Department of Employee Relations will advise state agencies next week regarding implementation of the freeze, including guidance related transfer of existing employees between agencies. The measure also puts a moratorium on new consultant contracts and on renewals of existing contracts. However, some contracts may be approved for waiver by request to the Department of Administration.

Whether the freeze and moratorium will be strictly applied to Mn/DOT, especially given expectations to continue to deliver the largest construction program in our history, remains to be seen, Gray said.


 Future LRT station changes current map of downtown Minneapolis

Hennepin & Fifth

"Going multi-modal" in fall 2004 is the ultimate reason for this closure of Hennepin Avenue at Fifth Street.That’s when this intersection will begin carrying light rail trains along with buses, cars, trucks, bikes and pedestrians. Photo by Josh Collins

Downtown commuters, sports fans and music-lovers take note: the map of downtown Minneapolis went out of date March 4. That’s when Fifth Street closed permanently for construction of a new light rail transit station between Third and Fourth avenues near Minneapolis City Hall—a site that’s four blocks west of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and eight blocks northeast of Target Center.

The Fifth Street block closing serves as one more tangible sign that LRT is coming to Minneapolis. Last fall private utility companies began temporarily closing downtown Minneapolis streets in order to relocate underground lines in preparation for LRT. A six-week closure of Fifth Street at Hennepin Avenue began two weeks ago for the same reason.

"We’ve heard from the City of Minneapolis’s transportation staff that downtown traffic is moving fairly smoothly," said Joshua Collins, community outreach specialist, Mn/DOT Hiawatha Project Office. "We have been encouraging commuters to find alternate routes for months, and a lot of the traffic that used to use Fifth Street has shifted elsewhere."

Utility relocation east of Nicollet Mall is complete now, with construction beginning as soon as utility crews move on to the next block, according to Jack Caroon, Mn/DOT design/build project manager, Hiawatha Project Office.

"We did start actual construction of LRT downtown back on Feb. 4," Caroon said. "Construction crews have already stripped the pavement off four blocks along Fifth Avenue east of Nicollet Mall, and they’ll continue to move northwest following Fifth Street."

Next up for private utility relocation work is the Fifth Street intersection with Nicollet Mall, a buses-pedestrians-only street running parallel to the heavily traveled Hennepin Avenue, two blocks from Target Center. This would go on for eight weeks, Caroon said, and will probably begin early in April.

The downtown area has been a favorite venue for running and biking road races, but construction will have only a minimal effect on race participants, Collins said.

"We’ve already coordinated with one of the races on May 25," he said, "and we’re going to make sure that there’s a safe and clear path running between the construction areas."

LRT tunnel

Mn/DOT Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg (center) reviews plans with a crew member (right) who's helping to dig two light rail tunnels underneath Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. At left is Sakir Selcuk, deputy construction coordinator for HNTB, the Metropolitan Airports Commission consultant. Photo by Bob Winter

Outside of the downtown Minneapolis area, LRT construction continued this winter on other changes to the Minneapolis map, including a new flyover bridge at 28th Street and Hiawatha Avenue. Work continues at other Hiawatha Avenue sites, including Hwy 62 and Hwy 55 near Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Richfield along the southern border of Minneapolis.

Work also continued throughout the winter on the tunnel beneath the airport. The southbound tunnel, currently half finished, should be complete in April, Collins said. The tunnel-boring machine will begin the northbound tunnel immediately after completion of the southbound tunnel.

Once the weather warms up, activity will pick up dramatically.

"Construction will get cranked up early this spring," Collins said. "We have plans to lay a significant amount of track. It’s really going to start looking like a rail line."

Construction of the first portion of the light rail line should be complete in late 2003, with the remainder opening in fall 2004. Metro Transit plans to begin operating the LRT line for partial service in late 2003 from Nicollet Mall to Fort Snelling. Once the entire LRT line is open, travelers will be able to get on and off the train at any of 17 light rail stations at the airport, along Hiawatha Avenue, and in downtown Minneapolis.


 Motor Carrier Services improves service to its customers

Debbie Starr, OMCS

Debbie Starr, OMCS, issues a permit while routing a trucker. Photo by Ted Coulianos

During the past six months the Office of Motor Carrier Services examined the level of service it provides to customers requesting over-size or over-weight vehicle permits. With a focus on improving service, OMCS made changes to improve its level of customer service.

The changes include:

- Transferring non-related permit business to other Mn/DOT offices.
- The Office of Materials and Road Research now handles winter load increases and spring road restrictions.
- Establishing a call center for greater efficiency in issuing over-dimension vehicle permits to commercial carriers.
- Developing an online and fax-on-demand checklist to assist customers in the permitting process. (fax: 651/ 405-6024.)
- Streamlining the payment system for over-size and over-weight vehicle permits.
- Developing improvements to RouteBuilder, the program used to route over-size vehicles through Minnesota.
- Establishing a weekly bulletin on the OMCS Web site to keep customers updated on routing and traffic issues.
- Expanding a self-routing pilot project to certified carriers.
- Developing a permits advisory group.

The Office of Motor Carrier Services administers safety and economic regulations for Minnesota’s commercial carriers. This includes the permitting of over-dimension trucks traveling on roadways under state jurisdiction.

"We recognize the importance of providing the highest level of service to our customers. Dependable service and accurate travel information is what we want to deliver," said Ward Briggs, Director of Motor Carrier Services.

By Mary Meinert and Todd Kramasz


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