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HOV lane regulations could be reviewed sooner than planned

After initially saying there would be no changes to the recently activated 22-mile carpool lane system in Las Vegas for three years, the state seems to be changing its tune as the complaints pile up.

Gov. Steve Sisolak said the high occupancy vehicle lanes could be up for revision in half the time originally stated, being brought up in a year-and-a-half with the state Board of Transportation.

“It would have to go through the processes, but the previous administration worked that deal out with the federal government to get the funding and that’s something we’re setting for the next 18 months,” Sisolak said Tuesday while attending school lunch at Staton Elementary School.

The federal funding Sisolak eluded to is money that was awarded to the state transportation department for adding the carpool system as part of the nearly $1 billion Project Neon, which wrapped up this summer. Carpool lanes run on portions of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95 and feature 24/7 regulations.

The round-the-clock enforcement, which is at the forefront of motorists’ complaints, was added at the recommendation of the Federal Highway Administration, as there are direct access HOV ramps located on the left side of the freeway, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Despite calls by the Las Vegas City Council to address the 24-hour regulation of the lanes immediately and go back to peak hour, weekday enforcement, Sisolak said it’s not that simple.

“It was part of the agreement that was made with the federal government to get the funding to get it (HOV lanes) in here,” he said. “So it’s not just something that you can just eliminate suddenly.”

Despite Sisolak’s statement that the lanes will be reviewed in 18 months, NDOT Director Kristina Swallow said the department is staying on track with its original plan.

“We will conduct a formal review and comprehensive assessment of HOV network operations after collecting, collating, and analyzing three years of data,” Swallow said in an email. “Meanwhile, during the interim, the department will continue updating the transportation board on emerging HOV usage and performance measures as early data becomes available.”

City Councilman Stavros Anthony said he’s happy to hear the lanes could be addressed sooner than originally stated, saying the motorists who continue to air their displeasure are being heard.

“The HOV lanes are really making a lot of people mad, because they want to be able to use them,” Anthony said. “They’re like me, they hate seeing a lane open with no cars (when there’s traffic congestion) and they want to be able to use it.

Anthony said he hasn’t seen a change in the use of the HOV lanes since regulation of them began in June. He said it shows the lanes aren’t encouraging Las Vegas Valley motorists to carpool.

“They’re being used the same today as the day they first opened them. There’s nobody using them,” Anthony said. “Most of the drivers are single drivers and if they are two per occupancy, they were probably driving as a double occupant anyway… it’s not changing anybody’s behavior.”

Anthony applauded Sisolak for being prepared to bump up the time frame for reviewing the lanes and said he’s confident changes will occur to the regulations as a result.

“Eighteen months is definitely better than three years,” he said. “I’m pretty confident when they do their analysis in 18 months they’ll find out exactly what we know today: The HOV lanes are not causing people to double-up and they aren’t taking vehicles off the freeway. That is the purpose of them (HOV lanes) and it’s not happening and it never will happen.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter. Review-Journal staff writer Amelia Pak-Harvey contributed to this report.

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