MnDOT considering new strategies to deal with financial adversity

Tom Sorel
Tom Sorel

Here are a few of the strategies Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel and others are talking about to help MnDOT cope with its projected funding shortfall.

• More technology to boost capacity on existing freeways, thus avoiding the need to acquire more right-of-way.

MnDOT is considering more “congestion pricing” lanes where motorists pay metered tolls for access to less-congested lanes. MnDOT introduced this system in 2005 on I-394 and it is now operating on I-35W south of downtown Minneapolis. A study last year identified eight more freeway corridors in the metro area as candidates for such lanes.

• More “urban partnership agreements,” like those that recently helped the Twin Cities and three other large metro areas to land major grants to ease metro area congestion.

• Trimming the highest-cost, lowest-benefit parts of large projects.

MnDOT applied this technique to shear millions of dollars from the cost on work on the I-494/State Highway 169 interchange project, a major job scheduled to start this year in Eden Prairie.

• More public/private partnerships.

Two leading examples: The interchange projects improved access to the headquarters of UnitedHealth Group in Minnetonka and Best Buy in Richfield. In both instances, these companies chipped in millions of dollars because they benefited directly from the projects. “That’s the kind of thing we all need to be thinking about,” says Sorel. “We’ve got to move in that direction.”

• Tolls for bridges or roads.

Bob McFarlin, who served as MnDOT’s interim commissioner before Sorel arrived, concedes that this is not a popular concept but suggests it merits serious consideration.

• New investment by global financial entities.

• More bonding money.

Dave Beal writes about business and the economy. He can be reached at dandcbeal (at) msn (dot) com.

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