Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Collin County commuters paying for poor HOV lane design
Perhaps it is time to rethink the engineering and regardless of the expense, ignore the political pressure and go back to the original "reversible lane" design.
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Perhaps you’ve seen the electronic signs recently flashing on Central Expressway with the message, "Level Orange Ozone Alert".
The signs remind of the reality that our air here in Collin County is often unfit to breathe.
Somehow, we’ve become conditioned to the fact that the air around us is unhealthy and making many of us ill. Although our leaders have tried to minimize the condition of our environment and have sought easy solutions, there are no easy answers.
Because our air is so polluted, the federal government has declared the 9 county North Texas region as a “non-attainment zone”. Collin County is in the non-attainment zone, and is therefore subject to a mandate that it do nothing that will increase toxic emissions like auto exhaust.
It is obvious that if the region can lower the number of cars on the road, and how long those cars idle, emissions will be reduced. That is why TxDOT built HOV lanes along Central Expressway.
Unfortunately, many don’t like those weird lanes with no exits. And many flaunt the restrictions because there appears to be no enforcement. A recent TxDOT survey shows almost 12% of the cars on this HOV are there illegally and that only 1.9 people are in the average car traveling on the HOV!
Last week Mr. Koorosh Olyai from DART was invited to the commissioners court to discuss HOV strategies for the region. While the commissioners listened politely, it was obvious that they only wanted to discuss one issue – the Central Expressway HOV. The commissioners could not hide their scorn of these awkward lanes. Jerry Hoagland wants to “scrap HOV”, and Joe Jaynes vowed to fight any attempt to extend it northward to McKinney
There are many other HOV lanes in the region, and they do not seem to elicit the scorn that the Central HOV has engendered. I remember when the “zipper” HOV was built on I-30. Folks liked it, and it garnered a lot of positive press, not so with Central. In Sunday’s Dallas Morning News, columnist Ed Housewright wrote, “I can't recall a transportation "improvement" that's been met with such public disdain.”
There is indeed much to dislike about the Central HOV. It is hard to get on, impossible to get off. The rubber stanchions are frequently broken, inviting “lane jumpers”. There is nowhere to pull over in the event of an emergency, and there is no enforcement, so more than 10% of those in the lane are single occupant.
Lost in the general conversation was the reason Collin County got stuck with such a dysfunctional, goofy HOV. What happened? Did the engineers go brain dead?
Perhaps it was pressure from politicians and not poor engineering that is to blame. A look at the “High Five” interchange will help to get a sense of the evolution of the Central HOV.
The highest bridges on the “High Five” are one lane wide, reversible HOV lanes connecting Central with LBJ freeway. These bridges are designed to move southbound morning traffic and northbound afternoon traffic. The HOV lanes along Central were designed to also be reversible.
Much of N. Central is elevated – to widen it would be a huge undertaking and very expensive. However, there was room down the median for a nice, wide reversible "zipper" HOV with exits and enforcement “pods” for police surveillance. The original design for the lane was for this reversible "zipper" similar to I-30 in East Dallas.
But the county and local authorities protested. They wanted two separate lanes – one going north, and one going south. TxDOT caved to local pressure and Collin County designed the beast we have today.
I have to say, that I like driving in an HOV lane. I car pool almost every day form Wylie to Dallas. HOV lanes cut time off my drive.
The recent DART study on Central showed that the average rush hour speed on Central was 31 mph. In the HOV, it was 61 mph. Studies have also shown that the HOV lane has improved drive times for those in the main lanes. The statistics indicate the HOV is a win-win-win situation, where the number of cars on the road, the average drive times, and total vehicle emissions have all been reduced.
But while getting rid of the HOV is both impossible and undesirable, fixing it must be a priority. DART’s Mr. Olyai promises that there will be new exits and entrances in Richardson. They will help, but not solve the issues.
It cost the taxpayers $19 million to build the HOV lanes. Sadly, TxDOT ignored its own experts in succumbing to the local political pressure. Collin County then paid for the engineering for the present design. I can’t think of a better illustration of why politicians should not be designing roads. Perhaps it is time to rethink the engineering and regardless of the expense, ignore the political pressure and go back to the original “reversible lane” design.
Pegasus News Content partner - The Collin County Observer