Just recently, on April 27th, an Eden Prairie women was caught by a State Trooper driving within a MnPASS lane with a mannequin. Despite her best efforts at dressing the mannequin up, the woman was cited for driving solo in the High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lane. (Skip to 5:45 of this video for exciting info on enforcement of MnPASS lanes).
This story lead me to learn more about the MnPASS system, or "sane lanes" as they are commonly called. Within a 2009 urban mobility report, completed by the Texas Transportation Institute, it was found that the Twin Cities region had garnered an estimated cost of $1.5 billion in lost time and excess fuel consumption for that year. In order to combat these costs, and expected increases in congestion, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has turned to priced lanes as an option to manage system-wide congestion and generate needed revenue.
The system MnDOT uses is MnPASS. Under this system, single occupant vehicles (SOV) may choose to use lanes originally designated for HOVs for a fee, which is determined by the current level of road congestion. Currently, MnPASS is available along I-35W in the south metro area, as well as I-394 in the west metro area. Hoping to secure full funding and legislative support, MnDOT is looking to expand MnPASS to I-35E north of St. Paul, between I-94 and I-694. The expanded area is expected to bring in an additional $1.9 million annually, while increasing the average daily volume of cars from 145,800 to 152,100, with 11,200 vehicles using the express lanes.
Basically, the MnPASS system operates so that when congestion increases on the tolled MnPASS lanes, the toll itself increases. As this toll increases, the number of SOVs diverted from the MnPASS lanes back to the general purpose lanes increases. Eventually, a balance is reached that maximizes the number of SOVs in the HOV lanes, while maintaining free-flow conditions. Overall, revenues generated from the I-35W and I-394 MnPASS corridors are nominal, covering repayment of capital costs and operating costs for the fee collection system (MnPASS studies) (2010 Study).