Three long years ago state transportation bigwigs arbitrarily declared it would be illegal for solo motorists to enjoy many of the benefits brought by recent Southern Nevada freeway construction projects. Without so much as a public hearing, the Nevada Department of Transportation in May 2019 imposed 24/7 restrictions on all high-occupancy vehicle lanes, which had previously been limited only during morning and afternoon commutes.
The time has come to free the HOV lanes.
Las Vegas area drivers pay gasoline and other taxes to support road building and improvements. Yet NDOT — in service to environmental preening under the guise of promoting car pools — has over the past decade spent well more than $1 billion adding freeway capacity and building flyovers only to curb taxpayer access to a good chunk of the finished product.
To make matters worse, the agency offers little data supporting the thesis that its HOV network on Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95 — which dates back more than 15 years — has caused commuters to double- or triple-up, nor does it have any inkling who actually uses these lanes. Meanwhile, regular highway drivers who obey the HOV rules can’t help but notice that many vehicles zipping past them in the car pool lane contain a lone motorist.
“They’re being used the same today as the day they first opened,” a frustrated Stavros Anthony declared in 2019 when he served on the Las Vegas City Council. “There’s nobody using them. Most of the drivers are single drivers, and if they are two per occupancy, they were probably driving as a double-occupant anyway. … The HOV lanes are not causing people to double-up, and they aren’t taking vehicles off the freeway.”
That’s consistent with much academic research. There’s “very little evidence showing HOV lanes deliver on their promise to reduce vehicle miles traveled and improve air quality,” noted Sharon Shewmake, a professor of economics and energy policy at Western Washington University, in a 2018 paper.
The HOV annoyance became less acute during the pandemic as offices closed, remote work took hold and freeway vehicle counts cratered. But Las Vegas area traffic volumes have largely recovered, and it continues to make little sense from a congestion standpoint to make limited use of significant highway capacity.
NDOT officials, however, are in no hurry to surrender their steadfast conviction that HOV lanes reduce congestion and improve air quality, despite offering scant evidence to support these assertions. Amid public criticism in 2019, they insisted it would take three years to “conduct a formal review and comprehensive assessment of HOV operations after collecting, collating and analyzing three years of data.” That time has passed and … nothing. Agency spokesman Justin Hopkins blamed the pandemic for delays and noted that NDOT began such a review last year, and the study “remains a top priority.”
If the data “supports 24/7 operation, the study will be deemed complete,” Mr. Hopkins told the Review-Journal in an email. “If a change appears warranted, NDOT will launch a pilot program using the newly recommended hours.” He also revealed that “part of the study is to determine how many people violate the HOV lane regulations on any given day.”
All of this is at least 15 years overdue, but better late than never. Las Vegas drivers eagerly await the results. In the meantime, NDOT officials have it backward. It didn’t take a study for them to impose their draconian HOV restrictions, and it needn’t take a study to relax them. The burden of proof resides with state transportation officials. Until they can produce data showing that confining solo motorists to general purpose lanes at all hours of every day is an effective means of promoting their green objectives, they should — at a minimum — immediately rescind the heavy-handed 24/7 mandate.
Free the HOV lanes.