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Utah's express lanes seen as success, so more are sought

Published September 20, 2012 8:40 am

UDOT hails freeway carpool lanes and looks to add more of them in Davis, Weber counties.
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Officials say freeway carpool lanes are so successful that they want to build more — this time in Davis and Weber counties.

"Express lanes are operating at a faster speed, they are safer, they are carrying more people than the general-purpose lanes, and I just think they are flat working," Utah Department of Transportation Deputy Director Carlos Braceras told the Legislature's Transportation Interim Committee on Wednesday.

Utah has 38 miles of express lanes on Interstate 15 in Salt Lake, Davis and Utah counties. In December, an additional 22 miles will be added as a project to rebuild I-15 in Utah County is completed.

Braceras said it amounts to the longest continuous stretch of high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the country.

He said UDOT is conducting studies that could allow more express lanes in Davis and Weber counties; funding sources have been identified for possibly adding segments in Davis County.

Speeds in express lanes average 5 to 7 mph faster than in general-purpose lanes, Braceras said. They have 4.5 percent of all accidents but carry 10 percent of all traffic.

He said in some places during peak hours, express lanes carry almost twice as many people because they average 2.2 people per car while general-purpose lanes average 1.1. Braceras said that helps decrease congestion in all lanes, while providing incentives to carpool.

However, he presented statistics showing that 17 percent of people in the lanes are there illegally.

UDOT has said the federal government expects violation rates to be between 8 percent and 15 percent. If rates stay high and the state does not make significant efforts to lower them, it could face sanctions.

The Utah Highway Patrol recently had a three-day blitz to ticket express-lane violators and to draw more attention to rules about who can drive in the lanes legally. Braceras said three or so blitzes are planned per year.

Studies show that 60 percent of the traffic in express lanes are carpools of at least two people; 18 percent are single-rider vehicles whose owners pay tolls through electronic readers; 4 percent are "clean fuel" (hybrids or natural gas) vehicles; and about 1 percent are motorcycles or buses.

ldavidson@sltrib.com