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It’s happened to anyone who lives in Southern California. A late-night accident or mysterious slowing clogs the rightmost freeway lanes, while the carpool lane sits empty. Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) has introduced Assembly Bill 405, a measure that will create a pilot program of sorts to ease such traffic congestion by permitting single-occupancy vehicles to access the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes (also known as carpool lanes) on State Highway Route 134, during non-peak hours.
A recent CalTrans report indicated that Southern California’s HOV lanes are not being utilized to capacity during non-peak hours, leaving single-passenger vehicles idling in slow-going or stand-still lanes. Unlike Northern California, where HOV lane restrictions are in place only during peak commute hours, HOV lanes in Southern California, including those on the 134 Freeway, are restricted on a 24-hour basis.
Gatto explained that “carpool lanes are intended to increase the capacities of our freeways, reward those who carpool during rush hour, and protect the surrounding environment from harmful exhaust. When motorists are stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic at midnight while carpool lanes sit empty, none of those goals are being met. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Gatto’s measure would require Caltrans to allow single-passenger vehicles to access the HOV lanes on a five mile stretch of the 134 Freeway between the 170 Freeway and Interstate 5 during non-peak hours.
“The current restriction of HOV lanes to only high-occupancy vehicles or to those who can afford high-efficiency vehicles is an ineffective way to operate these lanes outside of rush hour,” said Gatto. “California’s highway system needs to remain flexible, especially in areas where people drive the freeways at all times.” Many commuters along the 134 corridor, which links the 101 Freeway to Pasadena and beyond, do not work traditional hours.
Gatto is also overseeing an effort with state and local agencies to investigate ways to address administratively the underutilization of HOV lanes in the region.
“Traffic congestion is almost always bad during rush hour; it need not be bad all night long,” said Gatto.