WHAT'S SO GREAT about High Occupancy Vehicle lanes?
That's a question bellowed from behind the wheel by some drivers in Germantown these days on a stretch of Interstate 270 in Montgomery County north of Gaithersburg that holds the state's first commuter-only lane for cars with two occupants or more.
The lanes allow certain cars, vans, buses or motorcycles to zip toward their destinations at express convenience during morning and evening rush hours while other vehicles with only one occupant are contained in the regular lanes.
HOV lanes have been in use for years in metropolitan Washington, where they've remained controversial based on arguments over the minimum carload.
In addition to I-270, State Highway Administration officials would like to install HOV lanes on U.S. 50 between Annapolis and Washington, on the entire Maryland stretch of Interstate 95, the Capital Beltway and the Baltimore Beltway. There's also hope that HOV lanes will be installed along Routes 210 and 5 in Prince George's County, said spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar.
But if a group of state legislators has its way, HOV will soon be H-I-S-T-O-R-Y.
Last week in Annapolis, eight legislators from suburban Washington counties introduced a bill to ban HOV lanes from state highways and reroute the money -- at least $1.8 billion -- to other state transportation projects.
"The HOV lanes never get enough traffic to balance the loss of speed in the other lanes," said Del. Raymond Beck, a Montgomery County Republican and co-sponsor of the bill, scheduled for a hearing Feb. 25 before the House Commerce and Governmental Matters Committee. "Every HOV car would have to have between 14 and 19 people in it to make up for the lost speed."
Beck and Del. James C. Rosapepe, a College Park Democrat, say placing HOV lanes in the extreme left lane of the highway makes it difficult for drivers to cross several lanes of traffic to exit, making other drivers vulnerable.
Edgar defends HOV, saying, "Congestion is a big challenge for us. We cannot continue to build highways, and we have limited money, so we have to be able to move more people in less lanes."
She points out that HOV lanes are being used in 25 other urban areas in North America, including California and Virginia.
As for Maryland, Edgar said the HOV lane on I-270 -- open four hours daily during rush hour -- has drawn mixed reviews from commuters. The agency is monitoring the 12-mile HOV lane for nearly a year to see how well it serves commuting needs.
"The car poolers love it, and single car drivers have something against it," she told Intrepid last week. "Those mixed reviews are natural. It's not going to serve everybody."
Tossing garbage from car a far cry from good etiquette
It's only right, a woman lectured your wheelster recently, that when a driver lets another car into a lane of traffic, she receives at least a wave of thanks for the favor.
This is basic driver etiquette, the stuff of the Golden Rule and a small gesture that makes our world a kinder, gentler place to roam, she said.
And while we're on the subject of manners, just who was that driver in a green truck on the inner loop of Interstate 695 Wednesday at Perring Parkway who opened his door while driving -- and threw a wad of lunch trash onto the Beltway? Shocked drivers looked on as the remains that included a dirty paper plate flew toward their cars.
And another thing: Why don't folks clear the snow off the tops of their vehicles? Such an oversight causes megaproblems when the wheels are in motion, and a sheet of the frozen stuff is dislodged, flying into the windshield of the person traveling behind.
Beware of Maryland state troopers monitoring drivers on northbound Interstate 95 at the Route 24 exit in Harford County. It's there that a $1.6 million ramp was recently installed to help bust roadblocks created when commuters return to their suburban homes. Traffic is so clogged during rush hours that troopers have been dispatched to discourage unsafe lane changes and slowing or stopping in the adjacent through lanes. Baltimore County traffic engineers have agreed to place a flashing caution light at the crosswalk on Providence Road near Cromwell Elementary School. This will warn speeding drivers to slow when approaching the school, at the bend of a dangerous curve. The only problem is, the light won't go up until fall, Cromwell PTA President Sheli W. Mariner says.
Keep in touch
You can mail, send by fax or call in questions or comments for the Intrepid Commuter. Here's how: Mail letters -- The Sun, 1300 Bellona Ave., Lutherville 21093. Fax line -- (410) 494-2916. Call Sundial, The Baltimore Sun's telephone information service, at 783-1800 and enter Ext. 4305. From Anne Arundel County, dial 268-7736.
Pub Date: 2/17/97