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HOV lanes a colossal waste of highway capacity

Updated April 16, 2019 - 10:50 am

Give the Nevada Department of Transportation credit for wrapping up the $1 billion Project Neon — the state’s largest public works project ever — two months ahead of schedule. The endeavor involved a makeover of the busiest intersection in the state, the confluence of Interstate 15 and U.S. Highway 95 — the Spaghetti Bowl — near downtown Las Vegas.

After three years of delays and increased traffic disruptions, Las Vegas drivers should enjoy smoother sailing next month when the series of highway improvements is officially completed and unveiled.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that a great many local drivers will be unable to access the new fancy “flyover” connectors and other features because of politically correct HOV lane restrictions intended to encourage carpooling. That’s right: Thousands of Southern Nevada taxpayers who contributed to the massive cost of Project Neon will be prohibited from enjoying its primary benefits thanks to edicts issued by central planners trying to promote fashionable “green” commuting.

To make matters worse, NDOT in May will impose 24/7 restrictions on HOV lanes.

“Carpooling carries more people using fewer cars for better air quality, fuel savings and reduced vehicle wear-and-tear,” NDOT spokesman Tony Illia said. “They’re safer and less stressful, too, with fewer cars cutting in and out. Plus, it’s fun, offering a chance to socialize with others.” Isn’t that special?

Unfortunately, this balderdash has been NDOT’s mantra for years. In 2018, for instance, Mr. Illia penned a commentary for the Review-Journal arguing that even if HOV lanes are underutilized, they nevertheless reduce congestion by removing vehicles from general-use lanes. But what is the effect on congestion of increasing highway capacity only to limit use of that new capacity? Would overall congestion be reduced if all lanes were open to all motorists?

In 2016, two researchers from the San Francisco area provided an answer. “HOV actuation provides a 20 percent capacity penalty,” concluded a UC-Berkeley and Cal State study. “The HOV restriction significantly increases demand on the other lanes causing a net increase in overall congestion delay. HOV actuation does not significantly increase person throughput.” Translation: HOV lanes are useless.

Given our 24-hour schedule, carpoolers in Southern Nevada are a rare breed. Not to mention that most of the region’s existing HOV lanes accommodate more scofflaws than ride-sharing commuters.

Good for NDOT for wrapping Project Neon in a timely fashion. But how about the state’s transportation planners come to their senses and abandon their misplaced fixation with HOV lanes. If the goal is to reduce congestion, the only rational course of action is to open available lanes and flyovers to all motorists.

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