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HOV violations are likely to continue

John Colson

Does it make you angry when you see a car zoom by on one of Highway 82’s “high-occupancy lanes” with only one person on board – the driver – while you sit in a clogged lane of traffic?

Well, you’re not alone, and people are becoming increasingly vocal in venting their frustrations.

Although they acknowledge there are numerous complaints of abuses of the Highway 82 HOV lanes, state officials say the lanes are functioning as they are supposed to. The lanes are designed to only carry vehicles with passengers during peak periods of traffic. It is illegal to drive in the lanes during those periods unless you have one or more passengers.

Two Colorado State Patrol officers said this week that they are doing all they can to catch those who violate the rules. According to CSP statistics, approximately 350 tickets were issued for “lane violations” between July of last year and June of this year.

“I’ll bet 95 percent of them are going to be HOV violations,” said Trooper Cody Abernathy,

Ever since the late summer of 1998, when the first HOV lane opened between Brush Creek Road and the Aspen Village area, motorists have complained of scofflaws whizzing by them. The sight of a lone driver zooming up the HOV, passing by motorists who are abiding by the law, serves to heighten the frustration of dealing with the highway in general, commuters say.

Local commuting worker Mike Regan, who works in Aspen and lives in Missouri Heights, claimed that a majority of the cars he sees in the HOV lanes every morning are occupied by just one person.

“I’m guessing 50 to 75 percent, so it makes everybody else not want to obey the law, too,” he said in a telephone interview this week. “We’re all late to work.”

He said the most blatant violations can be seen every morning along the stretch of highway between Basalt and the Old Snowmass Conoco gas station.

And, he said, he very rarely sees a state trooper pull over a lane violator.

“They don’t have enough people working the roads,” he complained. “What the hell are they doing, stopping big city crime? There’s not even a donut shop to stop at.”

But Trooper Abernathy and Sgt. Otto Wilson said the patrol is doing all it can to deal with the problem.

The current policy regarding HOV violations is, “There’s no excuse,” said Abernathy. He said that the lanes have been in existence for more than a year, are well advertised by big signs and plenty of publicity, and that “everybody that’s driving can read.”

But, he admitted, “We can’t keep up with everybody.”

The state patrol keeps one or two patrol cars on the highway during the day, and one or two at night. And about once a month or so there is a “saturation” campaign, when extra patrols are brought in from other regions of the state to put five or six cars to work at once.

Sgt. Wilson said there has been discussion of conducting a longer, more intensive campaign to catch HOV violators. But, he predicted, “There’s just no way. It won’t happen.”

He said the main problem is one of manpower – the patrol does not have enough officers to conduct that kind of intensive campaign on a remote rural highway.

The fact is, he said, there are generally only two or three officers covering the entire territory at any one time – and that encompasses an area from Parachute to Vail along I-70, and from Glenwood Springs to Independence Pass on Highway 82.

“It’s a thorn in our side,” Wilson admitted. “We’re trying to get down there and enforce it as much as we can, because it is such a problem.”

Both Wilson and Abernathy said they get frequent calls about HOV violators. And they occasionally get enough information to issue a ticket to the offending motorist if they can find him or her.

Wilson also conceded that random intensive enforcement is only enough to “keep people on their toes” for “a couple of days,” before drivers start violating the HOV rules again.

“Enforcement really isn’t the answer to everything,” Wilson said, explaining that more education is needed to convince motorists that the HOV lanes are there for a valid reason and that the rules should be obeyed.

Joe Ellsen, resident engineer for the Colorado Department of Transportation in this region, said his office is convinced the HOV lanes are doing what they are supposed to do – convince commuting workers that it’s easier to take the bus or carpool than to drive along in their private cars.

“From what I’ve seen, it’s been a huge benefit to the RFTA bus system and to people who carpool,” he said.

And the HOV is mandated by the federal government, he said, as the area’s demonstrable effort to keep the air clean by discouraging single-occupancy vehicle traffic.

Still, both the CDOT and the CSP admit that there are always going to be those who refuse to comply with the rules, and that the official agencies are powerless to stop all the violators.

Regan, who said he was once stopped for violating an HOV law back east, said he has “learned my lesson” and offered the following advice to his fellow commuters: “Get up early! Set the alarm clock! You put Mickey’s big hand an hour earlier than you usually get up, and then you’re on the road early enough to make it to work. It’s not hard.”


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