Tag Archives: HOV

Nalley Valley work impacts speed limits, but not one scary merge

The in basket: Bill Howell wrote Wednesday to say, “I drove Highway 16 today on my way to Seattle and noticed that the speed limit has changed. Eastbound the speed limit is 60 until just before Pearl (in Tacoma). Westbound the speed limit is 60 starting at I-5. Yea!!!”

It’s still 55 eastbound from Pearl Street until you get to the 40 mph construction area at Sprague, he said.

The out basket: That increase from 55 to 60 mph has been on hold at the State Patrol’s request until the work where Highway 16 joins I-5 at Nalley Valley is complete. That milestone was reached almost exactly a year ago for westbound traffic, so the speed limit has just been raised in the entire westbound direction.

Work remains to be done in the eastbound direction, but Lisa Copeland, spokesman for the Olympic Region or state highways, says, “We have begun to raise the speed limit on SR 16 at the request of the public and with support from the WSP.

As I worked on Bill’s e-mail, I came across an earlier inquiry about the Nalley Valley work from Michael Drouin of Bremerton, sent in February. He said, “The on ramp for I-705 and Pacific Avenue to I-5 South merge at the same point that southbound I-5 drivers are attempting to exit I-5 to SR16. This location is always extremely dangerous to navigate. Are there plans for the Nalley Valley interchange (work) to eliminate this hazard?”

I share Michael’s unease when trying to move right into traffic entering I-5 from downtown Tacoma, especially if it’s dark and rainy. I hadn’t occurred to me until I was talking with Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state DOT’s public affairs staff, but it’s probably just as scary for those coming up that on-ramp wanting to merge left and continue south on I-5.

Alas, that “weave,” as engineers call it, will remain as it has been after all the Nalley Valley work is done, Claudia said. Work scheduled for 2020, however, will provide a safer route from I-5 to westbound Highway 16 for one stream of traffic – high occupancy vehicles traveling southbound on I-5..

HOV lanes will be built there in both directions on I-5 in 2020, and a flyover bridge will be built to provide a protected route for those HOVs southbound to Highway 16, she said. Otherwise, any driver in the southbound HOV lane would have to merge right across both general use southbound lanes to get to the flow heading to Highway 16 and then merge into that.


Buses in HOV lanes without any passengers

The in basket: Dr. Larry Iversen of Bremerton e-mailed to say “A couple of times I have noticed buses with ‘out of service’ signs using the I-5 HOV lanes, even though there is just the driver on board.

“Last Wednesday, I noticed three buses in a convoy using the I-5 HOV lane with ‘garage’ indicated on their signs, each with only a driver on board. I believe these were always Metro buses.

“What are the Department of Transportation, WSP, and Metro policies concerning buses with no passengers using HOV lanes on our highways?”


The out basket: Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton State Patrol office says that use of the HOV lanes by such buses is legal and specifically provided for in the HOV law. Among those allowed to use HOV lanes, says the law, are public transportation vehicles, and (many) private transportation provider vehicles if the vehicle has the capacity to carry eight or more passengers, regardless of the number of passengers in the vehicle, and if such use does not interfere with the efficiency, reliability, and safety of public transportation operations.”

Linda Thielke, in public affairs at Metro, says their drivers use the HOV lanes on “dead-head’ runs back to the bus barn, to stay on schedule. Their buses often are on the road 20 out of every 24 hours, she said, and even if the driver has completed his or her shift, he or she must get the bus back for another driver to take over.

John Clauson, longtime Kitsap Transit official who has just been named to head the organization, said his agency doesn’t have a policy addressing this. “We leave it to the driver’s discretion, knowing that it islegal.”

Crossing in and out of an HOV lane to pass other traffic

The in basket: Paul Lucas wrote that he and his wife have a disagreement “as to whether or not you can exit from the HOV lane to pass a slower vehicle and then re-renter the HOV lane.

“She says that you cannot cross a solid white line,” Paul said, while his position is “you can if, for example, the car in front of you is doing 50 in a 60 MPH zone, exit, pass and then go back across the white line. Who is correct?” he asks.
The out basket: Paul is correct.  Crossing a white line is legal as long as you are moving into a legal driving lane. Hence, moving right or left across the white line on the upgrade between Nels Nelson Road and the Ridgetop Boulevard interchange on Highway 303 in Silverdale is legal, by way of example, if you signal and yield to any vehicle in the lane you’re entering.

It’s also legal to cross the white line demarcating a left turn lane from the through lanes if you change your mind and decide you want to go straight ahead, provided you signal and yield to traffic in the through lane. Also, since most left turn lanes go first, it would be inconsiderate and perhaps an infraction to hold up the left turning traffic waiting for an opportunity to change back to the through lane.

Crossing a white line is illegal if it takes you onto the shoulder, into the tapering area, called the ‘gore,’ where an on-ramp merges into a freeway, or some other non-driving surface.

Where moving in and out of an HOV lanes is restricted, there is more than one line, often a double yellow, that ends intermittently to allow crossing back and forth. When a double white line is used on an HOV lane, the more common practice in this state, that also is illegal to cross until there is a break in the lines.

The speed of other traffic doesn’t enter into it.



A ‘No’ and a great big ‘Yes!’ for Highway 304 HOV lane

The in basket: Jo Webb has a suggestion for where the three lanes of Highway 304 leading out of Bremerton constrict to one at Highway 3.

“I work in Bremerton and have the misfortune of commuting via Highway 304 (the Navy Yard Highway) regularly,” she said. “As you are probably aware, there (is) one exit-only to Silverdale, one HOV lane, and the one lane that merges with the HOV lane, heading to Tacoma.

“In addition, I am sure you are aware of the backup of traffic in the merging lane, the little use the HOV lane gets, as well as the lack of enforcement by the police…. Coupled with this are those who pass everyone on the right in the exit-only lane and then rudely pull in front of people who have patiently waited. Tempers flare.

“My question,” she said, “has it ever been considered to put in metered lights, i.e., (red) lights for the two lanes allowing so many cars through for one lane and then switching, allowing the same number of cars through from the other lane? It seems to me it would reduce the congestion and move the traffic through a little more efficiently.”

The out basket: The big news in this reply is in the final two paragraphs, so be sure to read on, or at least skip down to there.

I occasionally hear requests for metered signals in that area, including five years ago when Joel Dahlke suggested them on the lanes coming south on Highway 3 and merging with 304. I have to report that cameras to show the signal operators how traffic is flowing are an integral part of any metering system, so they can set the best interval for the changing of the lights. There are no traffic cameras at that interchange.

It also seems to me that the suggested change would create ideal conditions for rear-end accidents as unexpected stopping of traffic would result.

But Steve Bennett, operations engineer for the Olympic Region of state highways, had a different reasons to say no this time.

“The first reason is that there are no funds identified by the Legislature in which to construct such a system,” he said. “Secondly, metering the HOV lane defeats the purpose of the HOV lane by eliminating any advantage that lane might have over the general purpose lane.”

But there is other, good news about those 304 HOV lanes. The state has finally concluded it can make them HOV lanes only during rush hour, Steve said.

“Because of requests from Navy and the city, we have agreed to change the HOV hours from all day to 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday,” he said. “In other words, during non-peak hours that lane will operate as a general purpose lane. We expect the switch over to occur in mid-November.”


Are Highway 304 HOV lanes enforced?

The in basket: William C. Simons of Grapeview writes, “Every time I come out or into Bremerton by the shipyard I watch the cars traveling in the HOV lane.  Over half of the cars traveling in the HOV lane are single occupant.

“I was wondering if there is any plan to enforce the two-person rule for travel in the lane.  To date it isn’t being enforced so they should just take the signs down and let everyone share the road.”

While I asked about it, I also asked how troopers can be sure of violations when someone lying  down in back, even an infant in a car seat, makes the driver eligible to use the HOV lane.

The out basket: The State Patrol did an emphasis patrol there one day last year, and Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the local detachment says, “I don’t feel it’s a safe assumption to say that the laws aren’t being enforced in the carpool lane along SR304.  Troopers do regularly work that area, but as with any area within the county, you shouldn’t expect to see a trooper there every day.”

I’m also told that reducing the hours of the HOV limitations on 304 remains under discussion.

As for my final question, Krista says, “In situations as you mentioned (car seats, tinted windows, person lying down, etc) once the mistake was realized, the driver would be let go.”

Motorcyclist finds dip in Highway 304 HOV lane

The in basket: Motorcyclist Charles Ryers called to say there’s a depression in the HOV lane on Highway 304 coming out of Bremerton that is unnoticed by motorists, whose tires straddle it when they pass, but “if you are riding a motorcycle, it’ll knock you teeth out.” He had back surgery in June, which magnified the jolt for him, he said.

The out basket: Lisa Copeland, spokesman for the Olympic Region of the state transportation department, thanked Charles for bringing it to their attention. “Our crews have gone out a couple of times to fix and monitor a sink hole,” she said. “I”m told it was the result of ‘shallow settlement’ and so we placed cold mix and will continue to keep an eye on it.”

Charles says it doesn’t look like a very long-lived repair and still leaves a dip, but a much less difficult one. And at least an approaching motorcyclist can see it coming now, as it’s a different color than the rest of the pavement.

HOT lane components on SR167 create curiosity


The in basket: William Smith of Allyn writes, “I recently traveled the toll section of Highway 167 and noticed an overhead sensor over the non-toll lane as well as over the HOT lane. For what purpose is the sensor over the non-toll lane?  

“Also,” he said, “I assume that crossing over the double white lines in this area is subject to the $450 fine, similar to crossing the gore lines at the highway 3-304 connection south of Bremerton.”

The out basket: The white lines separating the HOT lanes from the all-purpose lanes are among those it is illegal to cross, as the signs along that highway make clear. The State Patrol calls it failure to obey a regulatory sign, which carries the same $124 fine as misusing the HOT lane itself. The fine for crossing the white gore lines can be $411, not $450.

The intermittent dotted lines that interrupt the solid white line on Highway 167 are where it’s legal to cross back and forth. 

The overhead sensors in the lane adjacent to the HOT lane helps confirm the lane being used by any given vehicle, says Patricia Michaud of the state’s toll division.

“The sensors … help confirm whether a car is in the HOT lane or not,” she said. “It helps ensure the system is properly identifying which cars are and aren’t in the HOT lane. 

“For example,” she said, “without the second sensor verification,  a vehicle leaving the HOT lane or straddling between the toll and non-toll lane could be mistakenly identified as in the HOT lane.”

For those unfamiliar with the idea of HOT lanes and/or Highway 167, a freeway between Renton and Auburn east of the Sound, they are HOV lanes that single occupant vehicles can pay to use.

The toll ranges from 50 cents to $9. The toll “algorithm,” as the state calls it, recently was changed to make it less common for the toll to rise to $9.

“Tolls reached $9 too often in summer 2008 so we adjusted the algorithm in October 2008 ,” Patricia said. “We haven’t made any further changes to it and it’s hard to predict the rates.” 

In the wee hours, when traffic is light, anyone can use the HOT lanes at no charge. The toll mounts with the level of congestion to limit use of the HOT lanes and keep traffic in them moving at around 50 mph. After the toll has hit $9, the lanes become available only to vehicles with two or more occupants, and motorcycles, each of which can use the HOT lanes at all times without paying anything.

Tolls are collected via the same Good to Go! transponders that collect tolls at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. They can be shielded to avoid a toll when one has one or more passengers and can use the HOV lanes at no charge. 

Details and a lot more information can be found online. The address is way too long and complicated to reproduce here. Just use Google or one of its competitors and ask for “SR167 HOT lanes.”

“The HOT lanes are helping reduce congestion, which is the purpose of this project,” Patricia said. “Speeds have increased in the general purpose lanes by 20 percent and the HOT lanes by 5 percent during the peak-period in the peak direction.”

When do accidents make HOV lanes available?


The in basket: Scott Menard of Bremerton  says he’s  seen instances when HOV lanes were temporarily opened to all vehicles because of an accident or road work blocking lanes on the freeway. 

One day in March, he said, he was on I-5 and came to a sign saying there was an accident ahead, but there was no mention of the HOV lanes, where traffic still was flowing. What is required to use the HOV lanes in such a case, he asked.

The out basket: HOV lanes are meant to make it desirable to share vehicles rather than driving alone, by making it easier to get around congestion. Most accidents create congestion, so the lanes would be opened to single-occupant vehicles rarely because of a crash.

Unless a sign says the HOV lane is open to all vehicles, or you are directed there by an officer, a flagger or a flashing yellow arrow sign, the usual rules apply and you risk a ticket by being alone in your car in an HOV lane.

Gorst-bound HOV lane may get hours limitation

The in basket: Richard Hood posted the following comment about the HOV lanes leading out of Bremerton toward Gorst on the Road Warrior blog at kitsapsun.com. 

“These lanes are great for rush hour time,” he said, “but they sit nearly empty at other times. Could Bremerton maybe change the HOV restrictions to only certain times of the day? 

“That’d be pretty convenient,” he said.” I don’t like having to merge at the end of the non-HOV lane.”

The out basket: That’s a state decision, not one for the city, and there’s a good chance the state will make the change soon.

Steve Kim, traffic engineer for the Olympic region, tells me they have decided to recommend limiting use of that lane to HOVs only during peak traffic hours, which probably would be just a short time on weekday afternoons. If that is done, all vehicles could use the inside lane at other times.

But they want the agreement of the city, Navy and Kitsap Transit that it’s a good idea, and they will be setting up a meeting with those agencies to discuss it, Steve said. 

The same change might ultimately be made on the HOV lanes on Highway 16 around the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, he said, but they aren’t willing yet to make that an official recommendation.

Does 2+ mean two or more or three or more in HOV lanes?

The in basket: Harry Mock of Port Orchard writes to say, “On Highway 304 and numerous other places, there are HOV lanes with signs saying “HOV only, 2+”.  Does the “2+” mean two people or more, or more than 2 people (i.e. 3 or more)?  Can a vehicle with two occupants use the HOV lane, or does it require three?  Just trying to stay legal.”

It’s not a question that had ever occurred to me. I think I already knew that HOV lanes in this state were open to any vehicle with two or more occupants before I ever saw one of the 2+ signs. But I can see where the meaning of 2+ might be unclear to someone who hadn’t learned that. I asked the state if saying “Two or more” might be better.

The out basket: Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for this region, replies, “The sign does mean two or more. As for it being rephrased, this has been the standard for over 20 years and this is the first time I have ever heard of someone not understanding the message.  I doubt there is widespread misunderstanding of the meaning.”

As past Road Warrior columns have noted, any second living person, even an infant or blind person, qualifies a vehicle for use of the HOV lane. Why specify “living?” I’ve had the question, probably posed in jest, as to whether a corpse in a hearse would serve as a second occupant. It won’t.