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Thursday, June 2, 2011

HOV Lanes: Why we build them when we do



Crews are busy adding more than 80 lane miles of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to two Valley freeways – 30 miles in both directions on Loop 101 in the west Valley and 12 miles on east- and westbound Loop 202 in Chandler that will link directly to HOV lanes on the Loop 101 (Price Freeway) and Interstate 10.

The payoff for having these HOV lanes is significant. Not only do they help improve traffic flow and encourage carpooling, but they also expand transit opportunities (think express bus service). People who use them save time and money; and, we all enjoy the benefits of cleaner air thanks to fewer auto emissions.

But you’re probably asking yourself the same question we at ADOT are frequently asked: Why don’t we build the HOV lanes when we build the freeway?

It’s a good and fair question. To answer it, we’ll use an analogy that should hit home for just about anyone who’s ever purchased a house. We all dream about the add-ons we’d love to have from the get-go: the in-home theater, the furnished game room or the gourmet kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Most of us, though, don’t have the budget to get everything at once, so we start with what we can afford to meet our needs at the time, and save up or secure additional financing later for the improvements on our wish lists.

It’s quite similar when it comes to building our Valley freeways. Constructing them to 100-percent capacity all at once is usually not financially feasible. As a result, we build and improve freeways in phases, using the funding that is available when the project is scheduled to begin.

The funding comes from the voter-approved, 20-year extension of the half-cent sales tax (2006-2026). Revenue is programmed for freeway projects identified in the Maricopa Association of Government’s Regional Transportation Plan and is used for projects throughout the Maricopa County region to ensure that transportation needs in all parts of the Valley are met.

Back to those HOV lanes … we planned for their eventual construction very, very well. It’s no coincidence that we have ample space available down the center of the freeway mainlines. In fact, we plan and build freeways from the outside-in, so we have the land we need and the blueprint for design as soon as we get the thumbs up to begin the next phase of work. What appear to be dirt medians are precisely measured alignments for new lanes; even overpasses are built so additional lanes will fit beneath them 5, 10 even 20 years later.

Just like the homeowner who envisions next summer’s swimming pool on that barren plot of land in the backyard, we at ADOT are saving up – and planning ahead – for the safe and efficient traffic flow of tomorrow.
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