HOV Enforcement Planned on Part of I-395

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 20, 2007

For the past 25 years, southbound commuters approaching the Springfield interchange along Interstate 395 have enjoyed a privilege: amnesty in the HOV lanes. So bad was the traffic sludge stirred up by the old Mixing Bowl that police didn't mind if commuters were motoring solo along a three-mile stretch of HOV-3 lanes.

This free pass is soon to run out. Starting Jan. 14, only HOV-3 vehicles (those containing three or more people) will be able to enter the lanes between 3:30 and 6 p.m. at the Turkeycock ramp, named for a nearby creek, south of Duke Street. Transportation officials said the new Springfield interchange has alleviated congestion enough that the lanes should be used for their original purpose: carpools.

"Our goal was to return the HOV lanes to carpoolers," said Joan Morris, a Virginia Department of Transportation spokeswoman. "We want to make sure they have dependable commuting time."

Since 1982, vehicles with fewer than three occupants have been allowed to enter the carpool lanes at Turkeycock ramp but had to exit at Route 644 West or merge into regular Interstate 95 traffic. This portion of roadway was the only place along the 30-mile stretch of HOV-3 lanes, extending from the District to Route 234 in Prince William County, that did not impose occupancy restrictions during rush hour.

VDOT said the change is intended to make the HOV system uniform and will reduce traffic along the three-mile stretch by 30 percent.

But it will increase traffic in the regular lanes by 8 percent, according to estimates by traffic engineers.

From 3:30 to 6 p.m. weekdays, the HOV lanes accommodate 21,000 people in 6,000 vehicles, while the regular lanes handle 13,700 people in 11,400 vehicles. Regular lanes can absorb the additional vehicles thanks to the new Springfield interchange, said Randy Dittberner, a VDOT traffic engineer.

"That section has been widened, and it has the capacity it needs without creating a significant increase in congestion," he said.

Dittberner said the switch will improve traffic flow by reducing volume at two merger points: one where vehicles enter the HOV-3 lanes and another where they exit to Route 644 or I-95.

The change is also to induce commuters to carpool when construction threatens to create slowdowns. VDOT will begin a $110 million project in early spring to widen six lanes of I-95 between Newington and the Occoquan River, and work is expected to continue until 2010. That area is the biggest source of congestion for I-95 commuters, Dittberner said.

Some area drivers aren't too pleased by news of the switch. Margie Jones, a Springfield resident and retiree, said she has grown accustomed to accessing Route 644 West (Old Keene Mill Road) through the HOV lanes.

And she finds the new interchange confusing.

"There's still too much of a chance of being in the wrong lane, and if traffic's heavy, people won't let you in," Jones, 67, said. "When you're in the express lanes, there's no hassle because you don't have cars coming at you."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company