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EDITORIAL: NDOT’s massive blind spots on carpool lanes

They say the first step toward addressing a problem is to admit that you have one. So it’s good to see state transportation officials begin to own up to the HOV lane fiasco.

On Tuesday, the Nevada Department of Transportation announced it would add six new exit/entry points along the high-occupancy vehicle network that runs up Interstate 15 to the Spaghetti Bowl and continues out U.S. Highway 95 to the northwest. A dearth of legal entry or exit areas meant motorists often found themselves either trapped while attempting to leave the HOV lanes to exit or forced to wait miles before gaining access to the carpool lanes upon entering the freeway.

“Since we have opened the system,” NDOT Director Kristina Swallow said, “we have heard from the community about where the system is working and where it’s not.”

It’s bizarre that NDOT didn’t see this coming. But the agency’s tendency toward fashionable environmentalism has clearly created some massive blind spots.

NDOT unveiled the new 22-mile expanded HOV system upon completion of the $1 billion Project Neon, a series of improvements in and around the confluence of I-15 and U.S. 95. But much of the roadwork involved creating flyovers and ramps that are limited to vehicles with at least two occupants during all hours of the day and night. In other words, the vast majority of local taxpayers — who helped fund the work — are now typically unable to legally avail themselves of the improvements.

State transportation officials argue that HOV lanes help reduce emissions by encouraging ride-sharing and removing traffic from general-use lanes. But the idea that limiting access to new freeway capacity is a more effective approach to reducing congestion than simply opening up all available lanes to all drivers doesn’t withstand serious scrutiny. In addition, the agency has no data to indicate that HOV lanes — which have existed here in a more limited fashion for more than a decade — encourage more Las Vegans to carpool, nor does it have any information on the percentage of drivers using the lanes illegally.

Contrary to previous pronouncements by state officials, including Gov. Steve Sisolak, there was no federal requirement that NDOT include HOV features in Project Neon, let alone round-the-clock access limits.

NDOT’s decision to add ingress and egress points to the HOV network represents an admission that the current system isn’t serving drivers. But it’s time for the agency to consider more reforms, including a re-evaluation of the entire concept. If Ms. Swallow has truly “heard from the community,” the agency will also, at the very least, drop the ridiculous 24/7 designation currently governing HOV lanes in favor of more limited restrictions during rush hour.

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