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HOV Restriction May Return

The Virginia Department of Transportation wants to restore the carpool restrictions on a three-mile stretch of I-395's southbound HOV lanes that have been open to everyone during the afternoon since 1982.

If the Commonwealth Transportation Board approves the move at its Dec. 13 meeting, the restriction will be back in effect in mid-January. That southbound stretch was open to all traffic between 3:30 and 6 p.m. to ease congestion through the Springfield Interchange. But now that the interchange has been rebuilt, VDOT thinks traffic flow would be better served by restoring the HOV-3 restriction.

In the current set up, vehicles that don't have three people on board are allowed to enter the HOV lanes at a ramp south of Duke Street and continue to the Old Keene Mill Road exit or to the flyover leading to the general traffic lanes. The rebuilt interchange has 11 lanes to handle local and express traffic through Springfield and eliminates the troublesome weave and merge into the general traffic lanes, VDOT says.

In proposing this change, the transportation department also is looking ahead to the I-95 widening project at Newington, which is supposed to begin early next year. VDOT wants that extra HOV lane capacity, because it will be encouraging more drivers to either carpool or take transit during the upcoming construction. The change also would make it easier for state police to enforce the HOV rules all along the carpool lanes.

The widening project at Newington is separate from the HOT lane (high occupancy or toll) project that I-95/395 commuters often write in about. This VDOT plan for ending the exemption may take some getting used to because of the length of time it's been in effect, but the basic idea makes sense to me. In fact, I had a letter from a reader a few months ago wondering when VDOT was going to get around to this, now that Springfield is done. Do you see any downside?

By Robert Thomson  |  November 29, 2007; 5:01 AM ET
Categories:  Driving  
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Great idea. There is significant congestion in the evening commute as many drivers merge there, and this slows the legitimate HOV poolers. Let's get HOV back to it's intended function.

Posted by: Steve | November 29, 2007 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I seem to recall that they had announced this plan even prior to the beginning of the Springfield Interchange construction. It makes sense, but I have to wonder how much of a traffic backup it will cause for the first month or so when people don't realize the new rule, or forget about it, and the enforcement backs things up.

I think I had read somewhere that the original plan was to close that entrance to the express lanes altogether. I don't think that would help at all, since the next entrance is located in the Newington backup.

Posted by: Rich | November 29, 2007 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Over four years to widen 8 miles of road? Seems a little long.

Posted by: Anonymous | November 29, 2007 9:20 AM | Report abuse

This is offtopic and probably a dumb question, but I've always wondered. Regarding I-395 on the weekends, I see the signs saying that there are no restrictions on the HOV lanes. My question is, what does no restrictions mean? Does this mean these normally HOV-3 lanes become HOV-2 (i.e., still HOV)? Or does it mean that I can drive on them all by my lonesome?

Also, what happens to I-66 inside the beltway on the weekend? Is it even open? As a lone driver, I've never even been on it since I do most of my driving during the week.

Posted by: TheMatt | November 29, 2007 9:42 AM | Report abuse

No restrictions means you can drive alone on it.

66 is open 24/7. Inside of the beltway and outside of general HOV hours, it is open to the loners.

Posted by: T | November 29, 2007 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Like Rich, I also seem to remember hearing that the "Turkeycock" (yes, that is its name, due to its proximity to a creek with the same name) ramp would be closed. I don't see the point in closing it, however restricting it to HOV-3 during PM rush hour seems like the prudent thing to do.

Posted by: Woodley Park | November 29, 2007 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of HOV, it occurs to me that next month marks the 25th anniversary of the opening of I-66 between the Beltway and Rosslyn. I believe it opened perhaps a day or two before Christmas in 1982.

Anyone recall how EMPTY that road used to be at rush hour because it was initially HOV-4? I seem to recall that the opening of I-66 was the first time that the term "HOV" was used in the DC area and that it had everyone asking where the heck the bureaucrats came up with that term. In retrospect, though, I have to concede that "HOV" is easier to say (and to fit on a sign) than the wording that used to appear on Shirley Highway: "Buses and 4-Person Carpools Only."

Finally, a thought on Woodley Park's point about the Turkeycock ramp...prudence doesn't always seem to dictate these things! Notice the unused bridge in the median of I-95 just south of the end of the express lanes. Seems to me that since they built that bridge, they should have ended the express lanes just south of it. But maybe that would be too close to the exit for Route 619 at Triangle.

I think that before any decision is taken on closing the Turkeycock ramp altogether they ought to figure out how the whole HOT thing will work. I'm sure the contractor who will operate those lanes would prefer to have the access left open to give more people the opportunity to pay their money!

Posted by: Rich | November 29, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

You can't close the Turkeycock ramps. If you do there will be no way for buses to get onto/off HOV from/to the beltway. Buses such as the 29 buses to Annandale would have too use the regular lanes, which defeats the purpose of taking the bus...

Posted by: Ron | December 6, 2007 8:16 AM | Report abuse

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