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MnDOT to expand efforts to catch violators on MnPASS lanes

The enforcement beacons alert nearby State Troopers if someone doesn't have a valid MnPASS tag.

Enforcement along the carpool lanes in the Twin Cities has been a concern among those who pay to use them, and now a successful pilot program that helps law enforcement nab carpool lane cheaters is being expanded to more MnPASS lanes.

Over the past year, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has been testing enforcement beacons to help state troopers more easily identify when a vehicle doesn't have a valid MnPASS tag.

This new technology was tested on three locations on Interstate 35W and Interstate 35E, according to a MnPASS fact sheet. And MnPASS spokesperson Sue Gergen told BMTN the "technology worked well," so MnDOT is expanding the program throughout the MnPASS system.

MnDOT will spend $370,000 from the MnPASS budget (it typically comes from user fees) to add 24 more beacons along three freeways: 10 on I-35W, six on I-35E and eight on Interstate 394. The plan is to install them all by the end of the year. 

The goal of this new tool is to help reduce the number of MnPASS lane violations so the lanes function at their maximum capacity, the fact sheet says, adding that beacons have been found to improve the effectiveness of MnPASS enforcement, especially when it's dark, and improve trooper efficiency and safety.

How it works

The enforcement beacons read a vehicle's MnPASS tag when the driver passes under it. If the tag is valid, a blue light flashes. 

But if a tag isn't detected, the beacon flashes amber. This light visually alerts a Minnesota State Patrol trooper if they're nearby, and then the trooper can look to see if there is only one person in the vehicle. 

If that's the case, the trooper can then check to see if the driver's MnPASS tag is valid or if it wasn't turned on, which are violations that could result in a fine up to $300, depending on the county. 

MnDOT began testing this new technology to help catch MnPASS lane violators amid concern from MnPASS users. The violation rate for MnPASS lanes in 2019 was 15%, MnDOT says. During that year, the State Patrol's eight MnPASS lane troopers issued 4,808 citations and 1,486 warnings for MnPASS violations. 

Before the beacons, state troopers would have to visually identify vehicles that didn't have a MnPASS tag or two-plus people in the car. 

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