Part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the center is the monitoring hub for all highways in the greater Twin Cities area.
Our meeting room overlooked the transportation camera bay where you could see live action shots from hundreds of cameras positioned high overhead on all metro highways – they do not cover county roads or streets.
Mary Meinert, Transportation Specialist II, walked us through a fascinating PowerPoint and in the end showed video clips of interesting things that have been caught on camera – like a bull running loose on 494 in South Saint Paul, two miniature horses coaxed to the side of the highway by a posse of cars, a MnDOT maintenance truck – with a flashing arrow to clear lane, rear ended by a Durango going full speed! A State Trooper narrowly escaping death when a car hit the car he had pulled over to the side of the road – again lights were clearly flashing. And the ‘I can’t believe this is happening award’ went to the two girls from New Jersey who stopped their car in the middle of the highway, got out and started a fight with each other!
It was also interesting to hear Mary tell how TV stations routinely call and ask if she could move the camera for a better view of the traffic patterns they are reporting and to learn the 88.5 KBEM does traffic broadcasts every 10 minutes from the center.
I also just found out that in July of 2000, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 511 as the national traveler information phone number. One can access information about road conditions, traffic incidents and weather information via the phone or the Web, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
This was old news to Roseville School District Transportation guru Jan Vanderwall who also told me the rules and regulations for MnPass Express Lanes – which I pass on the highway every single day I drive in to work.
MnPASS Express Lanes are designed for solo drivers to use by paying an electronic fee. Small, two-axle trucks weighing less than 26,000 pounds can also open an account and use the express lanes. Transit buses, carpools with two or more people and motorcycles can use the express lanes for free. I have seen the signs but never looked that closely at them.
You can apply for a free transponder on line though when I looked there is a waitlist due to the recent high number of requests. It states that motorists who want to become new customers of the system will have to wait 6-8 weeks before they can use the lanes because transponders are on back order. The fees for solo travelers can be as low as 25 cents or as high as $8.00.
And people obviously think they are worthwhile according to this statement on their website: ‘In recent months, lease agreements on the existing I-394 and I-35WE,MnPASS Express Lanes have averaged 700 accounts each month, which MnDOT has not experienced previously.’
All in all it was a fascinating presentation.