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Keep HOV Lanes For Carpoolers

So I get up early and wait with a line of sluggers in Prince William County to pile into a car driven by someone I don't know to get a quicker trip north in the HOV lanes. Then you tell me, Oh, sorry, today's not your day. The main line is too crowded because of an accident in DC, so we're letting the solo drivers into your carpool lane. Sure, it will slow you down and negate the incentive to carpool, but what about their needs?

We'd have issues.

This isn't a lack of sympathy for people stuck in a 23-mile backup on I-95/395 when they needed to get to work this morning. Been there often enough. And it's not a Rules Is Rules thing.

In fact, there really isn't a rule on this, says Mike Salmon, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Transportation. There have been occasions when the VDOT traffic managers have opened up the HOV lanes to all traffic, though on average, it's about once a year. One scenario is a major accident has occured along the Interstate and the HOV lanes can be used to get traffic around that point and back onto the main highway.

But it's a rare circumstance where opening the lanes to all actually does some overall good. This morning, Salmon said, when traffic backed up behind an accident at the Third Street Tunnel on I-395 in Washington, opening the lanes in Virginia would have created extra pressure on the point where the HOV and main line come together.

Traffic would have backed up in the HOV lanes, as well. "The two HOV lanes wouldn't take long to fill," he said.

So there wasn't a practical benefit that would have overwhelmed the issue of fairness to the people who form carpools so they can use the carpool lanes. That's why those lanes exist: To create an incentive to carpool.

This issue won't arise if the HOV lanes on I-95/395 are converted to HOT lanes. If they go High Occupancy or Toll, the choices will be carpool for free or pay to use them. The price of using them without having three people aboard will likely be pretty steep on a day like today, when the toll would rise along with the demand for a faster trip.

Take a stand in our poll on whether VDOT should have opened up HOV lanes in response to the delays this morning.

Road Essentials:  Incident Map  |  Traffic Cams   |   Key Routes

By Robert Thomson  |  April 23, 2009; 2:06 PM ET
Categories:  Congestion , Driving  
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Next: Weekend Traffic Disruption for IMF/World Bank


Opening the lanes just to reduce the normal flow of traffic doesn't make sense. In the case of a bad accident opening to use as a bypass is a good decision.

Posted by: askgees | April 23, 2009 4:29 PM | Report abuse

It was great to see VDOT hold its ground on maintaining the integrity of the HOV program. I now drive a hybrid with plates that allow me to use the lane without restriction. I had to pay thousands of dollars more for my vehicle to get this benefit and to meet the tough emission standards. I have not mercy for those stuck in the regular lanes for the following reasons: - each day a number of these folks cheat especially a half hour and closer to the end of HOV restrictions slowing down and blocking traffic while trying to let the clock expire, there are numerous options to avoid being stuck in the regular lane traffice (slugs, formal carpool, buses, trains, etc). They need to pay the price for being stubborn and not being willing to comply with the rules of the HOV program. It would not bother me if they sat in traffic until noon.

Posted by: nhoward1 | April 23, 2009 9:44 PM | Report abuse

nhoward1, you didn't "have" to do anything. You chose to purchase a hybrid. If you're so concerned about the environment think about all the exhaust that is just going up in the air as people idle in the back up. But it's all about you isn't it, you sanctimonious jerk.

Posted by: ronjaboy | April 24, 2009 7:17 AM | Report abuse

Sorry to get off topic, but with HOT lanes you are saying that someone will profit from a major wreck? Anyone see anything wrong with this? Next the company running these HOT lanes will send you a check in the mail if you talk on your cell phone while reading a paper, weaving in and out of traffic and texting at high speeds! There has got to be a better way.

Posted by: us11231 | April 24, 2009 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Hi US11231, the better way is to move closer to work. I live 4 miles from by job in DC (I live in DC myself) and I take metro/walking to work. Much cheaper than driving. I still own my car for errands and seeing my Dad, but now I put about 30 or 40 miles a week on it, strictly for pleasure/nonwork.

I must say, my rent ($600) isn't that much higher than if I still lived in fairfax county. And gas is maybe a half tank a month.

I know this isn't everyone's option, but I feel that not enough people turn this into an option.

Posted by: charlesmurphy85 | April 24, 2009 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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