‘Left lane law’ won’t alter 82’s HOV lanes
Don’t expect a new state law that requires vehicles to stay right except to pass to end confusion or irritation for some Highway 82 drivers.A law went into effect in Colorado Thursday that requires drivers to stay out of the left lane on multilane roads except when they are passing. It’s designed to prevent rude, clueless and Sunday drivers from tying up traffic in what’s typically known as “the fast lane.”Violators are subject to a $35 fine, $6.20 surcharge and three points from their driver’s license.At first glance the law seems to contradict the situation created to benefit car-poolers and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority buses between Basalt and Buttermilk on Highway 82. This HOV lane is on the right, forcing drivers of single-occupancy vehicles to stay left at certain times of the day.The new law won’t force a change to the situation on Highway 82. It applies only to multilane roads where the speed limit is 65 mph or above, according to Capt. Barry Bratt, who oversees the Colorado State Patrol in the region that includes Highway 82.The speed limit in the areas where the Highway 82 HOV lanes are in use is 55 mph and lower.Highway 82 a bad comedy?Although the new law won’t apply to the Basalt-to-Aspen stretch of the highway, it could add to the confusion, according to some observers.”We’re going to have 20 miles of a state highway here that’s going to be opposite of what most the state’s going to be,” noted Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.Between 6 and 9 a.m. on weekdays, upvalley-bound vehicles with a single occupant are required to use the left lane between Basalt and Buttermilk, and they must use the left lane when heading downvalley between 3 and 6 p.m.So, suppose a commuter departs from Glenwood Springs for Aspen on a weekday at 8 a.m. When the speed limit increases to 65 mph near the Sopris restaurant, the driver must stay in the right lane except to pass. The left lane rule doesn’t apply between El Jebel and Basalt, where the speed limit drops to 55 mph. When the commuter reaches Basalt, the left lane is mandatory because of the HOV restrictions – just the opposite of the law that applied on the stretch of road earlier in the journey.Janet Raczak, who commutes to Aspen from Old Snowmass, said the road regulations read like Abbot and Costello’s “Whose on First?” comedy routine. There are so many permutations that it is a joke, she said.State patrol: ‘Read the signs’Raczak said reserving the right lane for the high-occupancy lane is confusing enough. Many drivers apparently don’t read the signs that say when the restrictions are in place. Single-occupant vehicles often use the left lane even when not required, she observed.Those drivers will be utterly confused when they learn of the new law that reserves the left lane for passing – even if doesn’t apply to Highway 82 between Basalt and Aspen, Raczak predicted.Braudis agreed. More and more single-occupant vehicles stay in the left lane at all times of the day because they are unsure when the high-occupancy restrictions pertain, he said.Capt. Bratt said drivers can avoid confusion by simply reading highway signs. The left-lane restrictions and requirements really aren’t any more confusing than the varying speed limits that are standard on Highway 82 and many roads, he said.Auden Schendler, who commutes between Basalt and Snowmass Village, lauded the state’s passage of the law requiring vehicles to stay right except to pass. He said drivers dawdling in the left lane “is a major gripe of mine.”Nevertheless, he doesn’t want the new law to interfere with HOV lanes between Basalt and Buttermilk.”I’m an avid supporter of the HOV lane and I think anybody who violates it is evil,” he said.No plan to changeThe new law might create confusion on Highway 82, Schendler acknowledged. And rest assured, drivers who get ticketed for driving illegally in the HOV lane will claim they thought the new law required them to do so, he said.Colorado Department of Transportation officials said there are no plans to switch the HOV lanes. For that, RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship is thankful.”It actually works pretty well for us,” he said of the current arrangement. “I would say let’s not mess with something that works pretty well.”With the HOV lane on the right, the buses can slip in and out of traffic to get to the bus stops easily. If the lane was switched to the left, it would be more difficult to pick up passengers and re-enter traffic.”It’s a lot of maneuvering for a bus and it’s not always easy to do,” he said.Blankenship noted that the HOV lanes were created to try to keep traffic levels under control. Part of CDOT’s expansion plan for Highway 82 called for the HOV lanes, park-and-ride lots and new bus stops to make it more convenient to ride mass transit. CDOT and the city of Aspen had the goal of keeping traffic at 1993 levels, and buses are an important part of that plan, he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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