Met Council to Focus on Low-Cost Highway Projects

In its amended transportation policy plan, the Metropolitan Council focuses on "lower-cost, high-benefit highway improvements" as it faces increasing highway congestion and limited funding.

The Metropolitan Council announced Wednesday that it has approved an updated version of its 2030 transportation policy plan, which includes a 20-year projection of traffic in the Twin Cities, as well as the projects required to accommodate travelers.

According to the report, it would cost roughly $40 billion to add enough highway capacity to meet forecasted demand by 2030-and the council expects that the metro area will receive only $900 million specifically allocated for congestion mitigation.

Amy Vennewitz, deputy director of metropolitan transportation services, said that the $900 million doesn't include all anticipated highway investments. Between 2011 and 2030, the report anticipates between $8 billion and $8.7 billion in regional highway investments-with approximately $5 billion coming from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which receives money from multiple state sources, including gas taxes. Much of the remaining investments will come from state legislation that allocates funds to bridge preservation and improvements, as well as “regional solicitation.”

The report also cites estimates from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, which indicate that trunk highway investments throughout the state will require about $65 billion during the next two decades, while revenues are expected to total only $15 billion.

“While traffic congestion impacts can and should be mitigated, physical, social, and environmental constraints as well as the limited funds available for capacity expansion must be recognized,” the report says.

The amended plan focuses on “lower-cost, high-benefit highway improvements,” and it encourages investments that will result in increased use of public transit and improve pedestrian and bicycle routes.

The Met Council's report marks a shift toward managing and preserving the existing highway system while downsizing major expansion projects. One recommended expansion, however, is to connect Highway 610 to Interstate 94.

The report also emphasizes “managed lanes,” which it says could provide a “congestion-free alternative” for travelers willing to pay for the convenience. These plans would include an increase in MnPass lanes, which allow solo drivers to use a carpool lane by paying an electronic toll.

“This plan identifies a realistic vision for transportation in our region for the next 20 years,” Council Chair Peter Bell said in a statement. “The plan is honest about funding expectations, and the system-wide approach to managing congestion on metro-area highways will also help the region achieve aggressive transit goals.”

The Met Council-which oversees planning for the seven-county metro area-is required to update its transportation policy plan at least once every four years, meaning that the most recent version is in effect through 2014.

The complete report can be found here.