East metro drivers, prepare for 35E rebuild and MnPass toll lanes

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The east side of the Twin Cities metro area will see its first MnPass toll lanes open in the next year or so. A large reconstruction project underway on I-35E north from downtown St. Paul will improve traffic flow, in part by adding the toll lanes, the Star Tribune reports.

This year's construction action will kick into high gear soon, with the removal of several bridge overpasses next weekend. And drivers will have to live with that construction for nearly two years.

This stretch of 35E is about five miles, from just north of downtown to Little Canada Road, and it is often choked with traffic during rush hour. The MnPass project is an attempt to reduce congestion and improve rush-hour conditions, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The decision to build the MnPass lanes came about when MnDOT started making plans to reconfigure the Cayuga Street interchange south of Maryland Avenue, according to the Star Tribune. The agency said it will save time and money by coordinating the two projects. Construction on the Cayuga Street interchange began last year.

Under the MnPass system, bus riders, car poolers and motorcycles can use the additional lanes for free, while solo drivers have to pay a fee to use them during rush hour. The fee is calculated by a transponder that's placed in the car. Drivers need to buy the transponder, which electronically sets and charges the fees depending on traffic volume, according to MnDOT. The fee averages about $1.25, the agency said.

Two other MnPass projects are already in place in the Twin Cities metro area, on I-394 west of Minneapolis and on I-35W south of the city.

Although the MnPass lanes aren't in operation yet, MnDOT is already planning to study whether they should be extended another 5 miles north, to the Hwy 96 interchange in White Bear Lake, according to the Star Tribune. The agency received a grant from the Federal Highway Administration to fund that study. Preliminary results are expected early this summer.

The entire project is expected to be finished late next year.

As for next weekend, both directions of 35E will be closed between I-94 and Hwy. 36 from 10 p.m. on Friday, March 7 to 5 a.m. on Monday, March 10 for the removal of two bridges across the freeway -- the Arlington Avenue and Wheelock Parkway bridges.

This MnDOT video provides an overview of the entire project.

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