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EDITORIAL: Hearse caught in HOV lane and other follies

Updated July 4, 2019 - 10:11 pm

The HOV foolishness nears farcical proportions.

Last month, Nevada Highway Patrol officials announced they’d begin enforcing new requirements for motorists using high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the Las Vegas area. The Nevada Department of Transportation has nearly completed its $1 billion Project Neon — an overhaul of the Spaghetti Bowl and environs — which included construction of additional HOV lanes and flyovers that will be off-limits to most taxpayers who covered the costs unless they’re traveling with at least one passenger.

NDOT officials, eager to burnish their green bona fides, have embraced the dubious notion that adding freeway capacity and then limiting access to the new lanes will reduce local traffic congestion while also lowering vehicle emissions.

At any rate, in addition to adding HOV lanes, NDOT expanded usage restrictions, from weekday morning and afternoon rush hour to 24/7. The crackdown began June 20.

Since then, the Highway Patrol has issued hundreds of $250 citations to HOV offenders. NDOT, through one of its contractors, even provided the agency with $10,000 to cover overtime costs associated with ramped-up enforcement — with potentially more money available at a later date. This week, the Highway Patrol even issued a tweet following one HOV encounter.

“Today we stopped a local funeral home hearse in the HOV lane,” it read. “The driver had the dearly departed in the back, he thought the deceased could be counted as two people. I guess we should clarify this, living, breathing people count for the HOV lane. The driver was given a warning.”

What a lucky stiff.

But seriously, folks … the hearse incident highlights another foolhardy aspect of NDOT’s preoccupation with HOV restrictions. Even with more vigilant enforcement, the rules are widely abused. It isn’t unusual to see solo drivers — without dead bodies in the trunk, presumably — zipping by in an HOV lane. NDOT officials even admit they have virtually no data on who uses the lanes or how effective they are at promoting carpooling.

Nevertheless, the Highway Patrol must now divert resources away from promoting public safety and into a largely futile effort to corral HOV scofflaws, who represent no danger to anyone. This is like Metro assigning a detail to roust kids running unlicensed lemonade stands.

The solution to this absurdity is obvious. Roll back HOV restrictions on U.S. Highway 95 and Interstate 15. This would open new freeway capacity to the vast majority of Southern Nevadans whose taxes paid for its construction, decriminalize a manufactured traffic offense and free troopers to concentrate on more pressing issues.

Some members of the Las Vegas City Council and other local officials have expressed skepticism over NDOT’s approach. They need to keep the pressure on.

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