HOV lanes (as we know them) may be a thing of the past

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by TERESA WOODARD

WFAA

Posted on November 8, 2012 at 11:17 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 9 at 12:11 AM

DALLAS -- It's always been the one thing almost every driver in Dallas understands about the HOV system.

"I know you have to have at least two passengers," said Leah Miskin, who commutes every work day from Dallas to Fort Worth on I-30.

She often carpools with one other person just so she can take the two-passenger-required HOV lane.

"It's the only one I've ever used," she said.

But the current HOV system is not going to be compatible with new ones being built. New highways across Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant Counties are being constructed with tolled carpool lanes, which will require three-plus passengers.

They are called "managed lanes" or "express lanes." They will be discounted for carpools of three or more, more expensive for cars with two passengers, and most expensive for solo drivers. And the current free lanes will feed right into the ones that cost.

"And we're trying to figure out what's in the best interest of the traveler," said Michael Morris, Director of Transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG). "Whatever we do, we're going to be criticized, because it's a complicated system.

Morris said the most likely scenario is to keep current HOV lanes free to carpools of two or more. But, he said, they'll likely allow solo drivers to buy their way in. The only way to manage the entire system, he said, is to require a toll tag for anyone who might ever choose to drive in the HOV lanes -- even the free ones.

"We don't know any other way to manage what we're trying to do without technology helping us in that manner," he said.

The Regional Transportation Council was expected to vote on a plan Thursday, but decided to take more time to study the issue. The NCTCOG has held public meetings, and now a workshop will be held in December to get more input.

"It's the topic of the town on what we're going to do," Morris said.

He said it's unlikely any more free HOV lanes would ever be built.

"There is a false assumption that it's rich people who travel tolls or express lanes," Morris said. "If daycare is charging you $50 for every 15 minutes you're late, maybe you're going to pay to not have to do that. Or if you're being docked for being late to work, maybe you'll get in the lanes to avoid that. Or maybe you want to see your kid's baseball game.

"It's a fallacy to say these lanes are for people with high income," he concluded.

E-mail twoodard@wfaa.com

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