Get ready to fly over to Summerlin

Transportation leaders hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday morning to celebrate the completion of the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) flyover between the Summerlin Parkway and U.S. Highway 95, which will open to traffic Monday. In light of the opening, we’ll take this opportunity to answer some questions readers have had about the flyover as well as HOV lanes in general.

Will anybody be allowed to use the bridge during the hours when the HOV lanes are not enforced?

Yes. The restricted lanes along U.S. 95 are enforced from 6 until 10 a.m. and 2 until 7 p.m. Those same hours will apply to the bridge linking Summerlin and the highway. Unlike some cities, which enforce the lanes around the clock or close them during non-commuter hours, the Nevada Department of Transportation will permit the lanes and flyover to be used as regular lanes during off-peak times.

Is it permissible to restrict lanes of a highway built with taxpayer money?

This question has come up when toll roads are discussed, but that’s a bit more controversial because the public has paid for the construction of a freeway and then must pay again to use the road.

In federal acts intended to reduce pollution and make highways more efficient, state agencies were encouraged to implement restricted lanes such as the high-occupancy vehicle lanes. Because of the acts passed in the early 1990s, state agencies such as the Department of Transportation have the ability to place restrictions on public roads.

The state agency, with the help of the Federal Highway Administration, spent $27 million on the Summerlin Parkway HOV flyover.

The HOV lanes are often empty, so are they really that effective?

They appear to be empty because the cars are zipping past so quickly as you idle away in your sweltering vehicle stuck in traffic. Those lanes actually might be busier, but the cars are moving at a consistent pace.

Actually, the Department of Transportation acknowledges that the HOV lanes on U.S. 95 are lightly traveled compared with most cities because the designated lanes are so short, it’s not worth the driver’s while to merge all the way across the freeway to enter them only to have to merge back to the right to exit the highway.

"There is not that much congestion in that area, so there is no sense in weaving over and weaving back," said John Terry, the department’s project manager.

So what is the solution if nobody is taking advantage of the HOV lanes?

Some of you I’m sure would like to see them go away, but that is not going to happen. I hesitate to break this news to you, but eventually, years down the road, those express lanes along Interstate 15? Yes, those will be converted to HOV lanes. I know, I know, motorists around these parts, once they became accustomed to the express lanes, embraced them.

Ultimately – no earlier than two years – they will be stripped away. The Department of Transportation’s long-term plans are to have two HOV lanes in each direction from as far north as the Interstate 215/U.S. 95 interchange to the I-15/I-215 interchange. There will then be one lane in each direction all the way south to around Sloan. There will be another HOV flyover at the Spaghetti Bowl.

By October, we should see these lanes between Ann Road and Rancho Drive and the Summerlin Parkway interchange to Rampart Boulevard.

How many motorists does the Department of Transportation expect to use this flyover?

Terry said studies show that between 800 and 1,500 vehicles per hour will use the lanes. During the early stages – before the lanes tie into I-15 – the agency expects the figures to be at the lower end of that range.

Are motorcycles allowed to use HOV lanes?

Yes, they are permitted. Studies show that it is much safer to allow motorcyclists to use the restricted lanes than for them to be in stop-and-go situations in the general purpose lanes.

How about tractor-trailers?

No, though the bridge was designed and built to handle the weight of a tractor-trailer, they are not permitted to use the HOV lanes or the bridge no matter how many passengers are in the trucks. That’s because they impede traffic flow. Trucks will, however, be permitted to use the flyover during the hours the HOV lanes are not enforced.

Of course, the Regional Transportation Commission’s vehicles will be allowed on the bridge and in the lanes because the flyover is a huge part of the agency’s overall express transit plans.

And what about electric or hybrid vehicles?

Not at this time. Some states allow "green" vehicles to use restricted lanes as a perk to owning environmentally friendly cars. Terry said there has been some discussion by legislators in Carson City about changing the rules, but as of now, only vehicles with two or more passengers – including the driver – can drive in the lanes.

Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at apacker@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2904.

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