County considers study of HOV lanes
A traffic study may be the ticket to determining what to do about the high-occupancy vehicle lanes on Highway 82, Pitkin County commissioners said Tuesday.Although the commissioners are reluctant to spend money on a study of the lanes, they said they support the high-occupancy restrictions during rush hour. The county’s staff was directed at Tuesday’s work session to look into the cost and extent of the study and possibly ask the Colorado Department of Transportation or the Elected Official Transportation Committee to help foot the bill.The county has heard a lot of criticism lately about the HOV lanes from commuters who feel restrictions aren’t needed since the section in Snowmass Canyon was widened. Also, while collecting comments for a highway plan, the most frequently received suggestion from the public involved eliminating the lane for car-poolers because of safety concerns.The HOV restriction affects the right lane of traffic heading into Aspen on weekdays from 6 to 9 a.m., and the right lane going downvalley from 3 to 6 p.m. Cars with two or more passengers are legally allowed to drive in this lane during the restricted times.The lanes were first instituted in the 1990s by CDOT when it was decided to widen the highway between Basalt and Buttermilk to four lanes. The HOV lanes, in the right lanes so buses can pull over and stop easily, were meant as an auto disincentive.Earlier this month, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority staffers counted the number of cheaters in the HOV lanes for 90 minutes at the Old Snowmass stoplight. RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said 22 percent of all single-occupant vehicles passing by that point during the 90-minute stretch were illegally using the HOV lane.RFTA supports keeping the HOV lanes in place because they decrease travel time on buses, providing an incentive for mass transit. Pitkin County commissioners agreed.Commissioner Dorothea Farris said the lanes need to be better marked with fresh paint, they need to be enforced more stringently, and the definition of HOV could even be bumped up to mean three people in one car.Blankenship told the board that people tend to “cheat” and drive illegally in the HOV lanes because of slow-moving cement mixers or dump trucks that travel slowly in the other lane during rush hour. Since it is illegal for those cars to travel into the HOV lane except to turn right, he said maybe slower-moving vehicles like large trucks should be allowed in the HOV lane.That way, he said, other HOV traffic would be legally allowed to pass the slow vehicles.Commissioner Michael Owsley said he thinks of the HOV lane as an “Alice in Wonderland” situation – “It’s a complete reversal of how I learned to drive,” he said. “I’m not a fast driver, and I don’t want to be passed on the right side because I’m not going the speed limit.””We’d like to conduct a study first rather than try to solve this problem now,” said Brian Pettet, director of Pitkin County public works. He said they need data to back up their ideas about traffic patterns and could find out why people chose to carpool in the HOV lane in the process. “Our first step to take is to find out what our needs are and how to satisfy them.”Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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