Citations fly in 82’s HOV lanes |

Citations fly in 82’s HOV lanes

Tim Mutrie

Authorities have issued more than 400 tickets for HOV lane violations on Highway 82, but active enforcement of the rules hasn’t kept commuters from moving into the fast lane when they shouldn’t.

At $69 a ticket, violators risk a fairly hefty penalty, but according to authorities, many peak-time commuters are not deterred.

“It’s not cheap,” said Capt. Fred Bitterman of the Colorado State Patrol office in Glenwood Springs. “But people don’t seem to care – they’ll take their chances. As long as they can make it to Aspen or downvalley a couple cars ahead of everybody else, that’s all that seems to matter, unfortunately.”

Since the first stretch of High Occupancy Vehicle lanes opened in July 1998 – and following a “educational phase” of enforcement – the State Patrol has written between 400 and 500 tickets to violators, Bitterman estimated.

There are now six miles of HOV lanes along newly widened Highway 82 between Basalt and Aspen, and more are on the way. During peak commute hours, the lanes are restricted to vehicles with more than one occupant, to encourage car-pooling. But plenty of motorists traveling alone ignore the rules.

“Per week, it will vary,” Bitterman said. “Some days, officers will come in after a three-hour period of enforcement, having written twelve to fifteen HOV lane tickets. Then there are other days when officers have worked the same area for the same period of time, and everybody has been obeying the law.”

Pitkin County Sheriff’s deputies have also been patrolling stretches of Highway 82 with designated HOV lanes; the number of tickets they’ve issued was not available.

“We’re getting a lot of cell phone calls from motorists reporting violators, said Deputy George Kremer last week. “We have been doing a lot of verbal warnings and usually issue tickets on second contacts.”

“We’re in more of an education mode,” said Deputy Jeff Lumsden, a patrol director with the sheriff’s office. “But there’s nothing to say that we won’t write a ticket for it, especially for repeat offenders.”

But in the eyes of the State Patrol, the lenient “education phase” of enforcement with its verbal or written warnings is long over.

“One thing is for sure, we’re well past the warning stage,” Bitterman said. “We’re doing enforcement and we’ll continue to do that.”

The HOV lanes on Highway 82 are the only such lanes in a rural area in Colorado, and perhaps the United States, according to Dan Hopkins, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Right now, there are about six miles of HOV lanes open now, and when the [four-lane] highway is completed, the entire stretch will be about fourteen miles long, starting at the city limits of Basalt on the upvalley end and continuing until the Airport Business Center in Aspen,” he said.

HOV lanes are open to all motorists 21 hours of the day on weekdays. The rules, barring single-occupant vehicles, apply for three hours a day during peak commuting times: from 6 to 9 a.m. coming upvalley and from 3 to 6 p.m. heading downvalley.

Motorcycles and alternative-fuel vehicles can use HOV lanes at all times, even if the vehicle only has one occupant.

While common sense is a factor that figures into all aspects of law enforcement, the State Patrol will not tolerate use of the HOV lane to pass vehicles that are already going the speed limit.

“What gives you the right to use the HOV lane to pass them?” Bitterman asked. “We will enforce those types of violations.

“We would prefer not to write tickets,” he added. “We would prefer to have voluntary compliance, but judging from the numbers out there, there are quite a few people out there who are willing to take the chance.”

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