Frequently Asked Questions...
What are HOV lanes?
HOV lanes are dedicated highway lanes for use by High Occupancy Vehicles that offer reliable safe, and fast travel time for users of the lane. An HOV is any vehicle, including buses, carrying two or more people. By federal law, motorcycles are also eligible to use the HOV lane.
Where is the HOV lane in SW Washington?
The HOV lane in Southwest Washington will be the inside (left) lane on I-5 Southbound from 99th Street to Mill Plain Boulevard in Vancouver. The lane is four miles long and will operate from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on weekdays and will operate as a regular traffic lane at all other times.
Why is the inside lane the HOV lane and not the middle or right lanes?
The left inside lane is the least affected by traffic entering or exiting the highway. Successful HOV lanes are those that best allow HOV users time savings, and need to be unaffected by vehicles weaving between lanes. The right lane is used for slower vehicles and those entering or exiting the highway. There is also more lane changing and weaving in the center lane.
When will the HOV lane be open to traffic?
The HOV lane opened October 29, 2001, when construction for widening I-5 in Vancouver was sufficiently complete for general use. Final paving in the corridor will occur by summer 2002. The I-5 project is adding one new travel lane in each direction from the Main Street interchange to the 99th Street interchange.
When will the HOV lane operate?
The southbound lane will be used for HOV travel during morning peak travel hours. The HOV lane is operational during the morning peak commute beginning at 6 a.m. and ending at 8 a.m. The rest of the time, the lane can be used as a general-purpose lane by any type of legally operated vehicle.
Why will we have a part-time HOV lane instead of a full-time HOV lane like the Puget Sound area?
Allowing general-purpose use of an HOV lane during the off peak period would not have a negative impact on traffic operation. The consideration of HOV on the I-5 corridor may be unique from the HOV experience in the Puget Sound area and peak period HOV is most appropriate for this region. First, I-5 is very congested for several hours each day, but mainly during the peak period. The level of congestion in the corridor can offer reliable travel time for shared ride trips. Second, right of way in the I-5 corridor is very constrained. Reverting the HOV lane to general purpose capacity during the off-peak period would occur at a time when there would otherwise be little travel time difference between an HOV lane and general purpose travel lane, and therefore, no incentive for HOV use. In addition, it would benefit midday traffic operations in the I-5 corridor for all users of the transportation system, including freight.
Who can use the HOV lanes?
Any vehicle with two or more persons (including children), are eligible to use the HOV lane. Although buses and carpoolers are the most frequent users of HOV lane, Federal law requires that motorcyclists also be allowed to use the lane. Motorcycle traffic in Washington State is relatively low (less than one-half of one percent of the total traffic volume). Vehicles over 10,000 pounds (large trucks) are not eligible to use HOV lanes.
Why are we doing an HOV lane in SW Washington?
Over the last several years the community has asked that we try to manage congestion by making better use of our existing facilities. Successful HOV lanes carry more people than if they were open to all traffic (see the next two questions). This project is the culmination of the Clark County HOV System Study and the I-5 HOV Operational Study. The Clark County HOV System Study developed an HOV System Plan for the County, adopted Clark County HOV goals and policies, and recommended I-5 as the first freeway corridor to consider for HOV. The I-5 HOV Operational Study evaluated a wide range of HOV alternatives in the I-5 corridor that looked at ways to improve travel without replacing the Interstate Bridge. The Study recommended the implementation of a bi-state HOV facility for the corridor. Other studies are looking at the long range needs in the corridor.
What are the benefits of adding HOV lanes?
Two major reasons are that HOV lanes provide an alternative to traffic congestion that provides a quicker, more consistent travel time and limits air pollutants from vehicles. HOV lanes are another tool that can help manage congestion because they are more efficient in carrying a greater number of people than general purpose lanes. On opening, the I-5 HOV lane is expected to carry more people (3,130) people compared to the adjacent travel lane (2,730) during the peak period. Because an HOV lane provides predictable and reliable travel time, an HOV lane may also encourage persons in single occupied vehicles to switch to a carpool or bus. By 2020, the HOV lane is projected to carry 5,120 people compared to 3,850 in the adjacent lane.
Another impact of congestion is increased air pollution. Implementation of HOV lanes is one of the many strategies recommended by the federal government to reduce pollutants from cars. Pollutants are reduced in two ways. First, HOV vehicles travel at higher speeds than vehicles in the general purpose lanes and emit less pollutants. Second, there will be fewer pollutants to the extent that the HOV lanes encourage persons in single occupant vehicles to switch to a bus, carpool, or vanpool. The Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area is designated as a maintenance area according to EPA air quality standards for ozone and carbon monoxide. The major contributor to ozone and carbon monoxide is the automobile. Under federal law, the region is required to take actions to maintain our air quality.
Sometimes it seems the HOV lanes are underutilized compared to the adjacent general purpose lanes; does that mean they are not working?
Some persons are critical of HOV lanes because they appear to be underutilized. HOV lanes are designed to carry more people in fewer vehicles than general purpose lanes, but more people. How many people an HOV lane carries will vary from corridor to corridor. The northbound HOV lane on I-5 in Portland carries upwards of 2,600 people per hour, while each adjacent general purpose lane carries 1,600 people. Also, it is carrying those 2,600 people in only 800 vehicles per hour, compared to 1,500 vehicles per hour in each of the other two lanes. Thats almost half (44% to be exact) of all commuters in the corridor in one-fifth of the vehicles. HOV lanes in Seattle also experience the same result: an HOV lane north of Seattle carries about 40 percent of all people traveling on southbound I-5 during the morning peak hour in 19 percent of the vehicles.
Does the public really care about or want HOV lanes?
A variety of public opinion surveys show strong support for HOV lanes. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has had five public opinion surveys taken for the northbound HOV lane on I-5 in Portland. The first survey was taken six months before the HOV lane opened; the last was taken in November 2000. These surveys are random phone calls to Vancouver and Portland households which use I-5 on a regular basis. Every survey has resulted in at least 70 percent of those responding supporting the HOV lane and making it a permanent fixture on I-5. Additionally, every survey has also shown that most people support the concept of a southbound HOV lane on I-5 as well. In a 1999 survey of Clark County residents, 53% agreed that HOV is an effective strategy to address bi-state congestion.
Why are people with children allowed to use the HOV lane?
HOV policies everywhere have allowed children to be counted as occupants of a carpool to meet the necessary occupancy requirement. While children may not be of driving age, there are two major reasons that we allow people with children to use the HOV lane: school and day care responsibilities and the idea of educating our children regarding ridesharing. Often, it is difficult to drop kids off at day care, drive to a park-and-ride, catch the bus, and get to work on time. Allowing parents to bring their kids along with them in the carpool, or on the bus, gives them an opportunity to use the HOV lane. This also keeps enforcing the lane very simple: two or more people per car.
How will we know if the SW Washington HOV lane is working?
The operation of the HOV lane will be evaluated on an ongoing basis by WSDOT, according to established traffic engineering standards. Adjustments to the operation of the lane will be made as necessary. Measures of a successful HOV lane include whether it carries more people per hour than the adjacent general purpose lanes; if it saves HOV users at least five minutes or one minute per mile on their one-way commute; and if it does not worsen overall traffic congestion and delay.
How much time will I save by using the HOV lane?
Models of the Washington south HOV lane indicate that the average person will initially save 4 minutes on their commute time by using the HOV lane when it opens in the fall of 2001. As the region grows and as congestion worsens, the HOV lane (when extended north to 134th Street and also built through Delta Park) will save users up to 12 minutes per vehicle in the future. An HOV lane commute will have a more consistent travel time as it will be less impacted by variable congestion delays.
The initial HOV Evaluation Report for the I-5 HOV lane was published in December 2001. It shows a savings of four minutes compared to the general purpose lane travel time. The report includes information on travel time, lane usage, and public attitudes about the lane.
The HOV lane provides an incentive for people to carpool or take transit whenever possible during peak congestion hours and makes more efficient use of our freeway capacity.
What happens if there is an accident or breakdown in the HOV Lane?
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has incident response vehicles to help clear accidents or breakdowns quickly. The incident response vehicles along with law enforcement and other service providers will work to keep the HOV lane operational.
What happens when ineligible vehicles use the HOV Lane?
Violators are subject to fines. A strong enforcement program is critical to providing equity and fairness for all drivers in the corridor. The Washington State Patrol is committed to this and will be the primary enforcer the new HOV Lane. A motorcycle unit has been assigned to southwest Washington. One of their duties is to monitor use of the lane and issue citations to violators. City of Vancouver and Clark County law enforcement officers also have the authority to issue citations. The fine for violation in the State of Washington is $86 per offense. The I-5 widening project will include wider shoulders where vehicles who are suspected of violating the occupancy requirement can be safely pulled off of the highway and out of the traffic stream.
In many U.S. metropolitan areas, including the Puget Sound area, a system for individuals to report violators is in place. At this time, no such system exists in the Portland/Vancouver metropolitan area. This tool may be reconsidered in the future.
When will you fix the bottleneck on I-5 through Delta Park?
The I-5 HOV Operational Study, which concluded earlier in 2000 and led to the region adopting the HOV concept on I-5, recommended that an additional lane be constructed on I-5 through Delta Park and that it be designated an HOV lane during the AM peak period. The Oregon and Washington congressional delegations have indicated they will lobby for federal funding for the widening once a local decision is made on how to achieve that widening and how much it will cost. The I-5 Transportation Partnership Study which will be studying alternatives for widening I-5 through Delta Park is the process for reaching the local decision. The Oregon Department of Transportation has also received a federal grant to begin preliminary engineering studies at Delta Park.
Why wont you extend the HOV lane across the Interstate Bridge?
During the I-5 HOV Operational Study, the Oregon and Washington State Departments of Transportation, along with a panel of HOV professionals experienced in HOV projects elsewhere, recommended against creating a reversible lane across the bridge (taking a lane in the opposite direction during peak hours and using it as an HOV lane) due to substandard lane widths, no shoulders, and traffic operational difficulties.
Additionally, a study was made of taking the existing left lane across the bridge and converting it to an HOV lane in the peak direction of traffic. This idea was discarded as it would lead to an unacceptable level of congestion on the bridge.
What else is being done to address congestion in our region?
Transportation agencies are continually studying and evaluating ways to improve travel in the region. Several studies are under way at this time including:
These studies will lead to short- and long-term transportation improvement recommendations, which will assist local government in identifying and funding their priority transportation improvement needs.
Where can I get more information about this HOV project, transportation in the region, or HOV in general?
For more information on the I-5 Vancouver HOV lanes call WSDOT at 905-2000 or visit or link to the Vancouver HOV home page.
For transit, park and ride, or carpool information, including carpool matching call C-Tran at 360-695-0123 or visit them on the web at: http://www.c-tran.com/
For similar information in Portland call 503-238-RIDE or visit Tri-Met at: http://www.tri-met.org/
For more information on HOV lanes in Oregon visit ODOT at: http://www.hov.odot.state.or.us/
Are the HOV lanes really a strategy to make traffic so bad that voters will support light rail to Clark County?
No. The HOV lane in Washington is created by the I-5 widening project. The new travel lane is being designated as an HOV lane only during peak travel times. The lane provides a time-savings to encourage people to carpool and take transit as a means to better manage both congestion and air pollution. Short of a major capital investment in the corridor, the Vancouver I-5 HOV project results in a two directional bi-state facility in the corridor with a morning southbound lane in Vancouver and a evening northbound lane in Oregon. It offers an immediate opportunity to improve travel mobility in the corridor without replacing the Interstate Bridge.
There is no one solution to travel in the corridor. Other studies, including the I-5 Transportation Partnership Study, are exploring light rail, HOV, and other transit solutions, as well as roadway improvements, in the I-5 corridor to address transportation needs in the corridor. This study is analyzing wide variety of transportation and land use alternatives in greater detail that might enhance the transportation of people and goods along I-5. The study will also examine the potential for a new Columbia River bridge crossing in the I-5 Corridor.
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