HOV LANE OPENS MONDAY ON I-5
Friday, October 26, 2001
By THOMAS RYLL, Columbian staff writer
Regional officials huddled beneath a canopy on a temporarily closed freeway overpass Thursday morning to herald Monday's opening of the state's first high-occupancy freeway lane outside the Puget Sound region.
Later, a Department of Transportation official promised that the controversial one-year pilot project will be withdrawn if it doesn't work.
"Yes, I know there are critics. I know there are people who say that once the lane is installed it will not go away," said Don Wagner, the department's regional administrator. "But there is a chance that it may not be successful, that it may not meet the criteria. So we need to reserve the right to remove the project."
But in front of a bouquet of reporters' microphones and a row of television news cameras on the 33rd Street overpass, Wagner and others promoted the project.
The HOV lane will be open on southbound Interstate 5 between 99th Street and Mill Plain Boulevard from 6 to 9 a.m. on weekdays only.
Only motorcycles, buses and vehicles with two or more occupants but not heavy trucks will be permitted in the HOV lane. The fine for cheaters is
$71 [Note: This is incorrect. The correct
figure is $86].
State Rep. Val Ogden, D-Vancouver, said she strongly supported the plan "because it was a locally driven decision" that gained unanimous approval from several planning bodies.
In the audience Thursday were Ogden's fellow 49th District legislators, Bill Fromhold, D-Vancouver, and state Sen. Don Carlson, R-Hazel Dell. Other lawmakers from outside the district, chief among them state Sen. Don Benton, R-Pleasant Valley, fought unsuccessfully to deny funding for the lane.
Royce Pollard, Vancouver's mayor, said Portland's HOV lane on I-5 northbound, which starts at Portland Boulevard and ends near Delta Park, provided the example for the Clark County experiment.
"We have to look at alternatives to more cars and more concrete," he said.
Ron Monroe, a Metro councilor in Portland and chairman of a
bistate transportation policy board, cited the Washington-Oregon cooperation that led to the project. "This is one region, not two regions, with one work force, one airshed, one set of transportation needs."
He drew applause when he restated the promise to seek money to
unplug the bottleneck near Delta Park where I-5 southbound narrows to two lanes, slowing down the morning commute for some 55,000 Clark County residents who travel to jobs in Portland.
At the same time, Monroe said adding a third lane there will serve as a continuation of the Clark County HOV lane, with the system "stopping only briefly at the (Interstate 5) bridge."
State Patrol Lt. Marty Butler promised "a strong enforcement effort" next week as the lane is introduced to Clark County motorists.
The local unit's five-person motorcycle team, headed by Sgt. John Rowley, will be patrolling the area. Rowley said four-wheel WSP vehicles will also be showing the flag and issuing $71 tickets
[updated info] to violators.
But not necessarily at first.
"Our intention is to be in an education mode," said Rowley. "We realize that it is going to be a change for the public."
Troopers will carry brochures explaining how the lane operates.
The HOV lane through Vancouver will be marked differently than Portland's HOV lane, which is marked with white diamonds.
In Clark County, two southbound I-5 lanes will veer slowly to the right near 99th Street while a wide yellow "ghost" stripe slowly angles away from the center median barrier to create the 12-foot-wide HOV lane.
Motorists in the southbound lanes will then have to make a conscious decision to cross the yellow line into the HOV lane.
How many motorists will make a conscious decision to collect a passenger or two and become an HOV-qualified vehicle is another question.
Participation will be one of seven measurements that will be used to evaluate the lane's effectiveness, Wagner said.
Others will include three public opinion surveys, one before and two during the project; maintaining a violation rate of 15 percent or less; and not increasing the accident rate in the corridor during the three-hour HOV period.
Traffic counts, travel time and other data will be collected every three months.
"The reason we're making it a pilot is that we're not sure that it will work," said Wagner.
Portland's lane is a constant aggravation to lone motorists who bump and grind while HOV-ers cruise by.
Lynne Griffith, C-Tran executive director, said the transit agency has just added four daily runs to its 134 Salmon Creek Express to Portland. The HOV lane cuts four to 15 minutes from the rush-hour return trip, Griffith said.
Meanwhile, C-Tran's park-and-ride lot in Salmon Creek has been packed for years, necessitating use of overflow lots and an ongoing project to develop a second facility at 99th Street.
Those bus riders and carpoolers will be in the HOV lanes, in Vancouver and Portland, starting Monday.
A look at the evolution of Interstate 5 since it opened in Clark County in 1955.