Intersection

Will carpool lanes on I-15 cure gridlock or just limit freedom?

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Cars star in Nevada’s lone-cowboy, Wild West mythology. Heck, the slogan for Nevada’s tourism campaign is “Don’t Fence Me In.” Our state might be last in education and other civilized amenities, but at least we enjoy ultimate automotive freedom.

That is, until the summer of 2019, when the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT) plans to take away one of the express lanes on Interstate 15 and turn it into an HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lane restricted to cars with two or more occupants. It’s part of the $1 billion Project Neon, which will also widen I-15 around Downtown and connect the U.S. 95 carpool lanes with the new ones on the I-15.

As a Las Vegas driver with few opportunities to carpool, I was personally offended by this development, one as seemingly wretched as Strip parking fees and the disappearance of comps. Nothing says “fence me in” like a restrictive white line that freedom-loving motorists can’t cross.

“We realize it’s going to be a tall order,” says NDOT spokesman Tony Illia. “We’re really looking at a behavioral change in how people approach driving. But the only other option is to not try, and that’s not an option at all for us.”

But why are HOV lanes the solution? I was thinking of the countless times I’ve gotten stuck in California or Texas gridlock only to look over and see the HOV lane practically empty. How could this be more efficient?

Basically, it’s a numbers game. A general purpose highway lane can handle a max of about 2,000 vehicles an hour, Illia explained. But when there are more cars than lanes, the capacity diminishes by more than half (think of inching along at rush hour). Since it’s impossible to add an infinite number of lanes to the highway­­­—Strip casinos would probably resist being paved over—planners must find other ways to increase the number of travelers on a limited amount of space.

“Sure, carpool lanes can be controversial, even irksome, but they can also cut down on highway gridlock,” Illia says. And that will be necessary since traffic is predicted to double in the next 20 years. That is, until self-driving hoverboards arrive.

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