Enforcement in question on dangerous HOV lanes

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on February 22, 2011 at 11:00 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 24 at 3:38 AM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

North Texas officials say high occupancy vehicle lanes are a success. But two years of reports from News 8 showed the design of HOV lanes on US 75 led to a 40 percent spike in serious crashes and directly contributed to three deaths.

Transportation leaders pledged to do better by writing more tickets to dangerous and cheating drivers.

But not all of those promises were kept.

In August 2009, in response to a News 8 investigation on HOV safety, Texas senators grilled the Texas Department of Transportation and Dallas Area Rapid Transit representatives.

At that meeting, DART committed to "expanded enforcement efforts" by writing more tickets to HOV cheaters and illegal lane changers.

Previously, DART averaged nine tickets a month on US 75. The month of the hearing, DART wrote an unprecedented 288 tickets, an increase of 3,100 percent.

But the commitment didn't last on US 75.

News 8 found from that peak of nearly 300 tickets, DART now writes an average of 32 HOV violations a month.

DART spokesman Mark Ball was asked to explain the discrepancy.

"I wish I had the numbers," he said.  "I really kind of believe, it's the end of the fiscal year and you got to use the money. So the money was used in the month of August to help the officers work some overtime and write those tickets.”

Ball later corrected his statement, saying DART police did, in fact, step up enforcement prior to the meeting, but there were no funds available to continue that effort.

Ball was asked if it wouldn't be effective for DART to continue policing the HOV cheaters as they did the month of the hearing. "Depends on the overtime money available," he replied. "Whether there's federal funds to do those kinds of things.”

Rosemary Miramontes of Carrollton also testified at that Senate hearing in 2009 because her son Franco was injured in an HOV accident on Interstate 35E. He is now a quadriplegic.

"Something has to be done about these dangerous lanes,” Miramontes said. "They need to be out there every day."

Since the accident, Miramontes has been saving to buy a transport van to take Franco out of the house more regularly. Right now, he can only travel in an ambulance.

"The public should expect better of us,” said Michael Morris, who is responsible for transportation policy in the North Texas region.

He says without effective enforcement, you lose the public's trust.

"If, in fact, they're not enforcing it, then we at the state will have to sit down with DART and make sure that's enforced,” Morris said.

But Miramontes worries that the difficult task of saving for an expensive van for Franco may, ultimately, be easier than improving HOV enforcement on North Texas highways.

Donations for a fund set up for Franco can be made under the "Hope Fund for Franco Miramontes" at Wells Fargo Bank.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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