California Department of Transportation

California Department of Transportation

Headquarters - Public Affairs Office

Tamie McGowen
(916) 657-5060

June 19, 2007

Caltrans Believes Higher Population, Not Hybrids, Contributing To Slower Drive Times

Sacramento –On June 15, 2007 the Federal Highway Administration notified the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) that segments of the state’s carpool, or High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV), network are congested, and are therefore out of compliance with federal law. Caltrans will prepare an action plan by August 31, 2007 outlining how the agency will correct this problem.

Because single occupant hybrid vehicles are allowed access to HOV lanes, these lanes come under the purview of the Federal Transportation Act, known as SAFETEA-LU. Once SAFETEA-LU provisions are invoked, HOV lanes are subject to more stringent congestion requirements. Under the federal definition, HOV lanes are congested when vehicles fail to maintain a minimum average operating speed of 45 miles per hour 90 percent of the time over a 180-day period during the morning or afternoon peak hours.

“Caltrans will work with our transportation partners to develop an HOV Congestion Action Plan by the end of August,” said Director Will Kempton.

“Many factors may impact operating speed and drive times such as bad weather or accidents,” says Caltrans’ Chief of Traffic Operations Robert Copp. “These incidents will reduce the overall average speed of the HOV lanes.”

Caltrans believes the state’s rising population – and not hybrid access – is the primary reason for congestion in HOV lanes. “More people are driving more cars longer distances. Our research shows that vehicle miles traveled increased faster than population growth,” according to Copp. “So, with population increases, we get more traffic, more congestion.”

A recent study by Caltrans shows that on a statewide basis, giving hybrids access to HOV lanes is not directly attributable to the increased congestion.
In the action plan, Caltrans will explore several strategies to reduce congestion, including:

  • Adjusting hours of HOV operation
  • Modifying vehicle entrance and exit points in HOV lanes
  • Increasing enforcement by the California Highway Patrol, and
  • Limiting hybrid access in congested areas.