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COMMENTARY: NDOT’s focus on carpool lanes makes perfect sense

A Wednesday Review-Journal editorial criticized the Nevada Department of Transportation for creating high-occupancy vehicle (HOV), or carpool lanes. It’s true, these lanes can be controversial, even irksome, but they can also cut down on highway gridlock.

Drivers sometimes see less HOV traffic, and grouse about wasted space. But those lanes carry more people using fewer cars, resulting in improved air quality and fuel savings. Southern Nevada, at present, lacks a complete HOV lane network. Merge-and-weave movements are needed in order to make freeway-to-freeway connections. Project Neon, however, will fix that.

Project Neon is a nearly $1 billion widening of Interstate 15 between the Spaghetti Bowl interchange and Sahara Avenue that broke ground last year in Las Vegas. It’s Nevada’s busiest stretch of highway, seeing 300,000 cars daily — about one-tenth of the state population — with 25,000 lanes changes hourly. And traffic will only double over the next 20 years. Project Neon will create 22 contiguous miles of carpool lanes between I-15 and U.S 95, plus build a half-mile long HOV Spaghetti Bowl flyover connector.

Carpooling reduces commute times with higher travel speeds and fewer delays. There is also less cutting in and out of traffic for a safer, less stressful drive. Clark County is expected to see 700,000 new residents during the next decade. Add to that 43 million visitors annually — 60 percent of whom drive — and it means a growing congestion problem. Traditional freeway expansion increasingly faces hurdles such as limited right-of-way, funding and federal environmental rules, which limit the ability to endlessly build infrastructure.

As a result, NDOT must embrace every tool available to combat bottlenecks. That means using alternative traffic management techniques such as carpooling. HOV lanes remove vehicles otherwise stuck in general traffic for increased capacity. A managed lane approach, with two or more occupants per vehicle, helps avoid super-saturation for greater efficiency.

Certainly, carpooling is nothing unfamiliar to the millions of Los Angelino visitors and transplants who now call Southern Nevada home. And with the booming popularity of Uber and Lyft, ride-sharing or carpooling is the future of transportation. It saves money and time while also reducing emissions.

So, grab a friend, buckle-up, and come along for the ride.

Tony Illia is the spokesman for the Nevada Department of Transportation in Las Vegas.

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