Opening HOV lanes to all after crash not so quick and easy

By Robert Thomson
Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Who makes the decision on opening the HOV lanes when all mainline lanes are blocked due to a serious accident? Why do they delay so long?

I am referring to the senseless 45-minute delay in opening the HOV lanes to all traffic after the Interstate 95 pileup on Tuesday. While the main line was at a standstill for three-quarters of an hour, HOV lanes were vacant because car and van pools were blocked from reaching them.

The first responders must have seen within seconds that some serious backups were going to be happening pretty quickly if they did not act. Instead, they simply allowed traffic that is already heavy to pile up for the better part of an hour. I appreciate that HOV is reserved for pools, and rules are rules. But who is empowered to decide that the situation is insane and can go out on a limb to make the call?

-- Connie Wiley, Fredericksburg

The crash early Tuesday morning involved a dump truck and several cars on I-95 north at the Prince William Parkway. Here's the sequence of events and decisions, according to Virginia State Police records:

About 6:15, police and the Northern Virginia Transportation Operations Center were alerted to the crash.

Emergency responders were on the scene in minutes, and the operations center had the incident on its TV monitors. By 6:21, all regular northbound lanes were closed and traffic was diverted from the highway.

By 6:35, the operations center had adjusted the signal-light timing on nearby routes that would now have to handle more traffic diverting from I-95. By 6:47 a.m., the state police had declared this a major incident and were requesting that the HOV lane restrictions be lifted.

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