State stands behind HOV lanes | AspenTimes.com

State stands behind HOV lanes

For commuters who hate high-occupancy vehicle lanes, the Colorado Department of Transportation has a message – suck it up!CDOT spokeswoman Stacey Stegman said she couldn’t address complaints specifically about the HOV lanes on Highway 82, but the agency generally supports the concept in the few places where it is used in the state.”People have a tendency to tag these lanes a failure,” Stegman said. Usually that’s because solo drivers who are frustrated by congestion in standard lanes look over and see so few vehicles using the HOV lane, she said. They assume that’s wasted space.In reality, the limited amount of study that’s taken place in Colorado shows that fewer vehicles in HOV lanes are transporting equal or greater numbers of people than the greater number of vehicles using the standard lanes.”People have to keep in mind the benefits of getting vehicles off the road,” Stegman said.Mention the HOV lanes on Highway 82 to raise a good debate among commuters. Only buses and private vehicles with two or more people are supposed to use the Aspen-bound HOV lane on Highway 82 between 6 and 9 a.m. during weekdays. During the afternoon commute, the HOV lane is in effect for downvalley-bound traffic from 3 to 6 p.m.Some solo drivers contend the HOV lanes aren’t needed now that construction on Highway 82 is finished. They claim the lane actually interferes rather than helps the free-flow on the road.The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, which runs the bus system, and car-poolers support the HOV lane because it shaves a few minutes off their trips.The restrictions place everything from slow-moving dump trucks to caffeine-loaded commuters in speedy cars into the standard lane. That’s a recipe for erratic driving and cheating.A recent, unscientific survey by the RFTA indicated that 22 percent of solo drivers violate restrictions and unlawfully use the HOV lanes. The “cheaters” accounted for 15 percent of all vehicles observed during a 90-minute observation.CDOT found a similar rate of cheating in a survey performed on Santa Fe Drive in Denver. A seven-mile HOV lane helps commuters between downtown Denver and Littleton. That study found that 22 percent of the vehicles using the HOV lane were cheating, Stegman said. They accounted for less than 5 percent of the total vehicles on the road.The January 2001 survey found nearly as many people were transported in the HOV lane as in the standard lanes even though there were only one-half the vehicles using the HOV lane.On Highway 82, RFTA found that HOV vehicles accounted for only 31 percent of the vehicles on the road during a 90-minute period but they hauled 54 percent of the people.The HOV lanes on both Highway 82 and Santa Fe Drive are delineated by signs and road stripes. Other metro-area HOV lanes on Interstate 25 and the Boulder Turnpike are separated by barriers and gates. “The violation rate is very small,” Stegman said.For solo drivers who hate HOV lanes, Stegman provided a glimmer of hope, however faint. She noted that CDOT will experiment with high-occupancy toll lanes on I-25 before the end of the year. The experiment will allow solo drivers to pay a fee to use the HOV lane. The fee will be dictated by the time of day.It might be more difficult to organize something like that on Highway 82 and Santa Fe Drive, where barriers for HOV lanes don’t exist, Stegman noted. But if the program is a success, it could lead to experiments on the other HOV lanes, she noted.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com