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Rocky Mountain Why?: Why Is The HOV Lane On The Right Side Of Highway 82?

Feb 12, 2020

Ziska Childs drives Highway 82 all the time, and she’s always wondered why the HOV lane is on the right side of the road when she believes it would be safer on the left side where most HOV lanes are.
Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio

Ever wonder why the high occupancy vehicle lane is on the right side of Highway 82? Aspen Public Radio's community advisory board member Ziska Childs did, and so she asked us to find out why. 

Most highways have HOV lanes set aside for multi-passenger cars and buses on the left-side, but not Highway 82, which runs from Basalt to Buttermilk.

Childs has noticed many cars driving over the speed-limit, regardless of icy conditions or snow. She said people driving different speed-limits can make Highway 82 and the HOV lane dangerous. 

"I am driving below the speed-limit [and] I'm technically in the HOV lane," Childs said. "If I were driving this speed-limit in the other lane, I would have people trying to pass me and pass me and pass me and flipping me the bird."  

The rules of the HOV lane are printed on white signs along the 16-mile stretch, but Childs said it's too much text to read.

"If people read, that would be dangerous," she said. "The easiest solution is to do what's traditional and to keep the HOV lane in the fast-lane, which is the left-lane."

Most HOV lanes are on the left side of the road but from Basalt to Buttermilk the lane is on the right side of the road.
Credit Molly Dove / Aspen Public Radio

But the CEO of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority Dan Blankenship said that could be dangerous. He said one of the reasons why the HOV lane is on the right-side is because there are bus stops along Highway 82 and most other highways do not. 

Blankenship said if the HOV lane were on the left-side, buses would have to weave in-and-out of traffic to pick up and drop off its passengers. 

Marty Hagen knows this all too well. He works for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, and has driven those 40-foot-long buses during rush hours. He said it would be impossible to get to the bus stops if the HOV lane was on the left-side. 

"Especially going up-valley in the mornings, every single stop we are going to have to stop at because we bring so many people up-valley in the mornings," Hagen said.

But public transit is not the only reason why the HOV lane is where it is. 

Back in 1987, the Environmental Protection Agency told the City of Aspen its air was too polluted with particles of dust called PM-10. Blankenship said city officials were told to come up with a plan to improve it. 

So to help air quality, the city wanted to reduce the number of cars coming in and out of town. Aspen’s new goal: reduce the number of cars driving across Castle Creek Bridge to about 24,000 cars a day. Twenty years later, the city still maintains this goal and air quality has improved although it still remains "moderate" according to the EPA.

The City of Aspen's Annual Average Daily Traffic counts from 1999-2019. John Krueger, Aspen's director of transportation, said 2018 saw a lower count because of construction on the Castle Creek Bridge. The spike from 2018 to 2019 is because that construction finished.
Credit The City of Aspen

John Krueger, the City of Aspen's Director of Transportation, said the HOV lane between Basalt and Buttermilk was one way the city could reduce traffic, encourage more people to take the bus and ultimately reduce its air pollution. 

As Childs approached Buttermilk, the traffic is slowed to a crawl two miles from downtown. She said regardless of whether the HOV lane is on the right or the left, it did not make her commute any faster.

Aspen Public Radio’s new reporting project Rocky Mountain Why? starts with what you’re curious about when it comes to life in the Roaring Fork Valley. Why was Aspen nicknamed Fat City? Is it true that the Roaring Fork Valley produces more potatoes than Idaho? Our news team does the digging, then shares the answers with our community.

What are you curious about? Submit your question here.