High occupancy vehicle lane designations

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High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are designated carpool or ride share lanes on a highway, where the vehicle utilizing the lane must have a driver and at least one passenger. Although first appearing in the 1960s, many states did not implement HOV facilities until the 1990s when The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) encouraged the construction of HOV lanes and provided some sources for federal funding[1]. As of 2010, HOV facilities occupied over 3,000 lane miles in the United States[2]. However, many HOV lanes are not used to their full capacity. Therefore, some HOV facilities are being converted into high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, where single-occupancy vehicles can pay a toll to utilize the HOV lanes. In 2012, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), revised the guidelines of HOV designation based on requirements set forth in Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) to allow operators of HOV facilities (typically State Departments of Transportation) to decide if out-of-service public transportation vehicles, HOT vehicles, and/or low emission vehicles will be permitted to use the lanes. Additionally, States can change the occupancy designation and hours of operation of an HOV lane[3].



A local suburban highway in the United States has become congested with high-polluting, single-occupancy vehicles. To minimize these issues, the Department of Transportation decided to designate an existing lane as a high-occupancy vehicle lane. During the designation process, the FHWA conducted a thorough review of the corridor, addressing lifecycle costs, installation, testing, operations, and maintenance[4]. Additionally, prior to designation, the DOT determined the occupancy requirement for the lane (ex. HOV 2+, 3+, or 4+), the times of day the lane will be restricted by occupancy (ex. peak hour only HOV lane or 24-hour HOV lane), and whether any exceptions to the minimum occupancy specifications would be allowed for HOT vehicles or energy-efficient vehicles. If the DOT chooses to change any factor, such as occupancy, operational period, or tolling, after the lane has be implemented, they must work with local FHWA divisions to adjust the designation and ensure all Federal requirements are met. However, the DOT does not currently anticipate any need for changes since the implementation of the HOV lane has successfully increased the number of carpoolers, alleviated peak hour congestion, and reduced local air pollution.


Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. Potential congestion of HOV lane during peak hours, which could cause commuters to return to single occupancy vehicle travel
  2. Encourage more automobile use (instead of transit) by alleviating congestion and creating more reliable travel times on the roadway
  3. Reduce traffic efficiency during off-peak hours if HOV lane is unable to be used by single occupancy vehicles
  4. Increase congestion in general use lanes if a previously crowded lane is designated as HOV only
  5. Requires local police officers to monitor the lane, limiting the number of police officers available to attend to crime and traffic accidents on adjacent roads
Compatibility Assessment

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Is the current highway exceeding capacity during morning and evening peak travel hours?
  2. Is there a significant number of idling vehicles on the roadway contributing to air pollution in the area?
  3. Is there space to widen the roadway so an additional lane can be added?
  4. Are funds available to add a designated HOV lane?
  5. Are drivers likely to participate in carpool or ride share programs with the implementation of an HOV lane?
  6. Will HOT and/or energy-efficient vehicles be exempt from occupancy requirements to increase use of the HOV lanes?
  7. Are the resources (e.g police officers, monitoring cameras) available to enforce HOV lane designation?

The following questions should be considered when determining how to implement this policy:

  1. Will a new lane be required or can an existing lane be converted into an HOV lane?
  2. Will the lane be designated as an HOV 2+, 3+, or 4+ (will 2, 3, or 4 vehicle occupants be required to utilize the lane)?
  3. Will motorcycles and energy-efficient vehicles (e.g. hybrids, electric vehicles) be exempt from minimum occupant requirements?
  4. How will the implementation of the HOV lane be funded?
  5. Over what distance or between which suburbs will the system be implemented?
  6. How will the occupancy requirements be enforced (e.g. police officers, cameras)?
  7. Will the lane be physically separated from general use lanes (e.g. separated by concrete barrier or median)?
  8. What criteria will be used to monitor the performance and effectiveness of the HOV lane?


  • Has adoption of: Common. There are over 27 metropolitan areas in the United States that have implemented HOV lanes[5]


  • Constituent Groups - Local Residents. Assumption: Residents may feel that the general use lanes will be more congested if an existing lane is converted to HOV only. They may also believe that the HOV lane will be underutilized. [13] [14]
  • Advocates - Mass Transportation. Assumption: Supporters of public transit systems may feel that the funds for HOV lane construction should be allocated to public transit that is readily available to more people and has a more significant positive environmental impact. [15]
  • Electeds - Local Legislators. Assumption: Local legislators may be opposed to HOV lanes if support among local residents is low


  1. Re-thinking HOV - High Occupancy Vehicle Facilities and the Public Interest http://ntl.bts.gov/DOCS/retk.html.
  2. The Federal Highway Administration - HOV Facilities http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/faq.htm.
  3. Federal-Aid Highway Program Guidance on HOV Facilities Chapter 3 http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/hovguidance/chapter3.htm.
  4. Federal-Aid Highway Program Guidance on HOV Lanes Chapter 4 http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/hovguidance/chapter4.htm.
  5. HOV/MUL Pooled Fund Study https://hovpfs.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/clearing.aspx.
  6. http://www.vdot.virginia.gov/travel/hov-default.asp
  7. http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/trafmgmt/hov/hov_sys/
  8. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/hov/
  9. Federal-Aid Highway Program Guidance on HOV Facilities Chapter 1 http://www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freewaymgmt/hovguidance/chapter1.htm.
  10. http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/fhwahop09029/fhwahop09029.pdf.
  11. http://www.dot.ca.gov/newtech/researchreports/2002-2006/2006/modeling_effectiveness_hov_lanes_air_quality.pdf
  12. http://www.ncdot.gov/projects/hov/download/factsheet.pdf
  13. Re-thinking HOV - High Occupancy Vehicle Facilities and the Public Interest http://ntl.bts.gov/DOCS/retk.html.
  14. ftp://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/99-00/bill/sen/sb_0051-0100/sb_63_cfa_19990604_160556_asm_comm.html
  15. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/10/more-prefer-public-transit-to-road-building/
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