Elected officials vote to explore HOV lane enforcement between Basalt, ABC | AspenTimes.com

Elected officials vote to explore HOV lane enforcement between Basalt, ABC

Elected Officials Transportation Committee willing to contribute funds to sheriff’s office, state patrol for extra work

A sign notifies commuters of the upvalley high-occupancy vehicle lane outside of Aspen on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Roaring Fork Valley transit feature that everyone loves to hate, or at least ignore, might be headed toward revival.

The Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprising officials from Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village, voted Thursday evening to explore enhanced enforcement of the high-occupancy vehicle lanes between Basalt and the Aspen-Pitkin County Airport.

“It’s kind of silly that we created these HOV lanes and don’t enforce it,” said Snowmass Village Councilman Tom Fridstein.

The officials present decided on a two-pronged approach to try to increase effectiveness of the HOV lanes. They will offer to provide funding for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and Colorado State Patrol for enhanced enforcement. If increased enforcement were pursued, the EOTC would also beef up education of commuters about the HOV lanes.

The stance of the sheriff’s office and state patrol will determine if the effort goes anywhere, officials said.

“After speaking with CSP and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, both are willing to engage on efforts including additional funding from the EOTC to enable long-term financial capacity for HOV lane enforcement,” said a memo to the elected officials from David Pesnichak, regional transportation administrator. “It is anticipated that this funding would pay for overtime for troopers and deputies to conduct HOV lane enforcement. While the exact details or costs have not yet been determined, having willing law enforcement partners is an important component.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper proposed what she dubbed a “light touch, high effect” solution to increase compliance but not overburden law enforcement. She proposed having periodic enforcement when the law agencies have capacity to do so.

“It’s called a week here, a week there,” she said.

The theory is commuters would never know when enforcement is in place, so they might comply more consistently.

The HOV lanes were added to Highway 82 during the expansion to four lanes in the upper valley. In a departure from standard national procedure, the right lane is designated for HOV use, rather than the left lane. This was done intentionally to make it easier for Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses to pull in and out of bus stops.

The goal was spare buses from congestion and to encourage carpooling in the HOV lanes.

The HOV lane is in effect from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. between Basalt and the airport on weekdays. It is in effect downvalley from 3-6 p.m. on weekdays. Vehicles with two or more passengers can use the HOV lanes.

Compliance is largely voluntarily. Enforcement isn’t a priority for the sheriff’s office and state patrol because of other demands. It is not uncommon to see numerous single-occupant vehicles using the HOV lanes whether through ignorance or defiance.

Clapper noted the local jurisdictions are obligated to live up to terms of agreements made during the highway expansion.

“It’s part of the Record of Decision (on the expansion of Highway 82),” Clapper said, “and we have to enforce it.”

Pesnichak said technological tools such as cameras and apps aren’t dialed in yet to provide the enforcement fix. He noted the Colorado Department of Transportation will soon start to experiment with apps to monitor occupancy compliance, so that could pave the way for Highway 82 down the road.

Support for greater enforcement wasn’t unanimous. Pitkin County Commissioner Steve Child, Aspen Councilwoman Rachel Richards and Snowmass Village Mayor Bill Madsen were opposed.

“I really feel this is a solution looking for a problem,” Madsen said.

He contended there isn’t a big enough problem with congestion during the HOV hours between Basalt and the Airport Business Center to justify greater enforcement. In addition, increasing enforcement could add to traffic woes rather than relieve them by funneling more traffic into the non-HOV lane.

Richards spoke in favor of looking at a wide range of tools to get people into buses and carpools.

Child said he would prefer to see enforcement of the 55 mph speed limit in the non-HOV lanes as a high priority. During the afternoon rush hour, the downvalley non-HOV lane turns into a stock car route at the Burlingame turnoff, he said.

“You’re risking your life going 55 miles per hour in the left lane,” Child said.

Voting to pursue enhanced enforcement were Clapper and commissioners Greg Poschman and Kelly McNicholas Kury; Aspen councilmen John Doyle, Ward Hauenstein and Skippy Mesirow; and Fridstein and Councilwoman Alyssa Shenk from Snowmass Village.

Pesnichak was directed to work further with the law enforcement agencies and determine how large of financial contribution would be required for them to hire additional staff or pay overtime for enhanced efforts. The EOTC would review a financial proposal for its 2023 budget.