Toughen up on HOV lane violators

Robert Thomson
Columnist June 24, 2011

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

HOV = High on Violation! Each weekday morning at 6:45 to 7:30, my wife and I alternate driving our 16-year-old daughter to her school in McLean. Our route takes us onto Interstate 66 from Route 123 to the Capital Beltway.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region. View Archive

I have noticed quite a number of vehicles in the HOV lane — not hybrids and not motorcycles — with only the driver in the vehicle, unless there were passengers sleeping on the floor whom I didn’t see.

On two separate days I decided to drive in the lane to the right of the HOV lane to see how many violators I could see between Route 123 and the Beltway. On day one, there were 17. On day two, there were 14. If these were all first-time offenders, this would be $3,875 in fines.

I saw no state patrol cars on either day or, for that matter, on any other day. It is clear to me that HOV is a joke! Not only that, but if all of the violators were caught, the revenue to the state would be astronomical.

— Pete Ewens,

Fairfax County

The problem is well known. The solution is elusive. This month, police in Maryland and Virginia staged an HOV Awareness Day, a sweep that targeted high occupancy vehicle lane violators on Interstates 66, 95, 295, 270, the Dulles Toll Road and Route 50.

Even though the law enforcement agencies announced this plan well ahead of time, they still managed to issue tickets for 575 HOV violations during the morning and evening rush hours June 14. Almost all of them received their first ticket for abusing the restrictions. This was the breakdown: 548 first offenses, 19 second offenses, six third offenses and two fourth offenses.

Does that mean drivers break the law only occasionally or that most have a knack for not getting caught? The two stopped for fourth offenses were in Virginia, where the fine for such consistent misbehavior is $1,000 plus three points on a driver’s license. I’m glad the police did this, although I know the effort soaks up resources and can cause traffic congestion. A one-day awareness campaign is not a solution, but it’s a visible response to a highly visible problem.

Eastward ho!

With schools closed and the Fourth of July weekend coming up, we’re entering the high season for summer travel — and traffic congestion on the great escape routes. Travelers often share tips on avoiding that collective trauma of a trip up Interstate 95.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Our daughter just graduated from a college in the Boston suburbs, so we have traveled there at least four times each year.

We’d take the New Jersey Turnpike to exit 11 for the Garden State Parkway, to Interstate 287 (the New York Thruway) to the Tappan Zee Bridge. (I’m from Rockland County, N.Y., and love the view.) We’d continue on I-287 to I-684 north to I-84, then east through Connecticut to the Massachusetts Pike to pick up I-95 outside of Boston.

Why? After sitting on I-95 in Connecticut, especially outside New Haven, it was just too annoying. It’s probably more expensive, but our total trip time is usually 71 / 2 to eight hours, not counting pit stops.

— Nancey Parker,

Laurel

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

In recent columns, you have suggested that drivers going to Boston or elsewhere in the Northeast should cross the George Washington Bridge and take the Cross Bronx Expressway.

My wife and I drive to New Hampshire several times each year by various routes. If we take the New Jersey Turnpike, we always take the Fort Lee exit just before the bridge and connect with the Palisades Parkway to Interstate 287 and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Sure, there are a couple of traffic lights before the parkway, but the traffic moves well, and it gives us the opportunity to fill up with gas on the Palisades Parkway just before leaving New Jersey, as well as avoiding the harrowing trip on the Cross Bronx.

The rest of this year, we will avoid the New Jersey Turnpike because of the construction and widening and probably go via Pennsylvania as you suggested.

— Larry Skog,

Vienna

I-95 issues also came up during our online chat Monday. The worst spot continues to be the Newark, Del., toll plaza, especially on the northbound side. The construction of the highway-speed E-ZPass lanes in the middle of the plaza is not scheduled to be done till late this summer. On a recent Saturday morning, I saw northbound traffic backed up well into Maryland. The New Jersey Turnpike wasn’t so bad in either direction. Most of the construction where the state is widening the highway is off to the side.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or
e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com .

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