Hybrids set to solo in HOV lanes | AspenTimes.com

Hybrids set to solo in HOV lanes

Janet UrquhartThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Aspen Times fileSingle-occupant vehicles aren't an uncommon sight in the HOV lanes on Highway 82 outside of Aspen, but now, 31 area owners of hybrid vehicles will have a legal right to drive solo in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

ASPEN Thirty-one drivers of hybrid vehicles may soon cruise solo, with impunity, in the HOV lanes on Highway 82.Some local commuters would likely argue that motorists in vehicles of all sorts are essentially doing just that anyway, but hybrid drivers with new state permits will do it legally.Statewide, more than 1,100 drivers of approved hybrid gas-electric cars can now travel alone in Colorados high-occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation. So far, applications from 1,121 hybrid drivers have been approved, including 31 with Roaring Fork Valley-area zip codes who sought permission to drive solo in the Highway 82 HOV lanes between Basalt and Buttermilk on the outskirts of Aspen. The lanes normally require at least two occupants per vehicle during peak commuting hours, Monday through Friday.Those whove received approval have been sent a letter with directions on how to obtain a transponder. CDOT will also give out decals to the hybrid owners for display in their windshields.The next step for the permittees is to obtain a transponder, according to CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. On Highway 82, the transponder will signal monitors the agency will install, allowing CDOT to track hybrids using the HOV lanes, she said.Drivers must have both a decal and a transponder to participate in the program, which also includes HOV lanes on Interstate 25, U.S. 36 and South Sante Fe Drive in the Denver area.The state was prepared to approve a total of 2,000 hybrid drivers in the program, so everyone who applied was approved except for about 60 owners of older hybrid vehicles that didnt meet federal requirements, Stegman said.Applications are still being accepted online at http://www.dot.state.co.us, she said.The program is currently set to sunset in September 2009, when the federal legislation that authorizes it expires. The state permits will expire then unless the federal authorization is extended, Stegman said.Locally, drivers of qualifying hybrids can also get parking breaks in Aspen they can apply for a free permit to park in residential zones normally restricted to a two-hour limit during daytime hours. And hybrid owners with the permit are free to park in spots otherwise designated for those who carpool.As of August 2007, there were 16,661 hybrid vehicles registered in Colorado, according to CDOT. With gas prices and concerns about the contribution of vehicle exhaust to climate change both on the rise, the number of fuel-efficient hybrids on the roads continues to increase.Boulder County topped the list for registered hybrids nearly a year ago with 2,793. In the Roaring Fork Valley, Garfield County had 259 of the vehicles, Eagle County had 205 and Pitkin County, which includes Aspen, had 176.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.janet@aspentimes.com

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