Las Vegas City Councilman Stavros Anthony continued his campaign Wednesday against 24-hour high occupancy vehicle lane enforcement.
Anthony presented a resolution, which the council passed unanimously, to end the 24/7 regulation of the carpool lanes that run on portions of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95.
The resolution calls for returning HOV lane enforcement to 6 a.m.-10 a.m. and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, as the hours were on the original stretch of carpool lanes on U.S. 95 when they were opened to traffic a decade ago.
Only the Nevada Department of Transportation board, chaired by Gov. Steve Sisolak, or NDOT director Kristina Swallow can change HOV regulations. City officials previously were told NDOT wants at least three years to evaluate the lanes’ effectiveness.
Though Anthony praised NDOT for the nearly $1 billion Project Neon, which resulted in 22 continuous miles of HOV lanes, the former Metropolitan Police Department officer said the HOV lanes were the one sour note.
“When these (HOV lanes) first came into place, people became very upset,” he said. “These lanes were paid for by taxpayers, and they were frustrated because they couldn’t use them. Only a certain group of people could use them.”
Anthony said the intent of the new lane regulations is to change driver behavior and remove some vehicles from the road by promoting carpooling. Despite the push by NDOT, he said, motorists in the Las Vegas Valley are set in their ways, and carpooling can’t be forced upon them.
“That’s not going to happen in Las Vegas,” he said. “People like to drive in their own cars by themselves to get where they are (going).”
City Attorney Jeff Dorocak pointed out that Las Vegas cannot change state HOV lane laws. The resolution will be sent to the NDOT board in hopes of encouraging a change back to peak hour enforcement.
“This is one option the city can take, is to offer a policy resolution to the state transportation board to let them know what the City Council, as the elective representatives, thinks of the current situation,” Dorocak said. “We’ll let them know the elective representatives of Las Vegas think that the current situation isn’t good.”
Anthony addressed the HOV lane matter at a previous council meeting before the 22-mile HOV system went online May 20. Citations weren’t given out for violations until June 20.
The push against the all-day regulations led the city to vow to reduce all tickets for HOV lane violations given out in the city’s jurisdiction to parking tickets and to reduce the $250 fine.
NDOT spokesman Tony Illia said it doesn’t have meaningful data yet on the new lanes. “We continue to closely monitor HOV lane usage, which is gradually increasing since being introduced less than two months ago.”
Though the 24-hour regulations are new to Las Vegas, they have been in place in other parts of the country, including California, Utah, Washington and Georgia, Illia said.
“Las Vegas is a non-traditional 24-hour town where traffic counts along I-15 and U.S. 95 show that morning commutes begin at 5 a.m. with volumes continuing to grow throughout the day,” he said. “However, traffic volumes fall to pre-commute/off-peak levels between 10 p.m. and midnight.”
The traffic volumes on the two freeways are so low during off-peak hours that an additional lane isn’t needed for mobility, Illia said.
“As such, converting the HOV lanes to general traffic usage only increases vehicle weaving and speed variability, thereby reducing motorist safety and increasing the likelihood of crashes,” he said.
If the HOV lanes were to change, it could cost taxpayers, because it could require new signage, lane striping and educational outreach, Illia said.
NDOT will continue collecting HOV lane data and will release it publicly once enough accurate information has been gathered and analyzed, he said.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman said she understands the process NDOT is carrying out but still favors altering the enforcement hours.
“I’m sure they’re collecting data … and at this point it is a learning experience for all of us,” she said. “I’m sure there’s a better way for us to get around. But I do believe NDOT is working with the best data they have to do the right thing, but I have to support this inside the city.”