The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) intends to look at the possibility of HOV/HOT lanes in three additional regions of the state to see if it could be successful in reducing traffic congestion.
SCDOT recently began studying a 22-mi. (35 km) section of I-26 between Summerville and downtown Charleston to gauge the feasibility of HOV/HOT lanes as a method of relieving rush hour traffic congestion.
Some states around the country have set aside lanes for the exclusive use of High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes. These vehicles are required to have one or two passengers in addition to the driver in an effort to reduce the number of vehicles on the road. Commuters who choose to carpool are then able to take advantage of the less-traveled lanes
SCDOT also will consider High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes as part of this study. HOT lanes can only be used by drivers who wish to pay a toll for the use of the lane. There is no requirement for the driver to have a minimum number of passengers in the vehicle.
SCDOT has identified the following locations on interstates that may provide an opportunity for HOV/HOT lanes that could realistically reduce congestion.
A 10-mi. (16 km), eight lane portion of I-77 from U.S. 21 to the North Carolina state line is one of the most heavily traveled segments of this interstate. There is no possibility of widening this interstate without incurring the expensive purchase of additional right of way. SCDOT has planned a meeting with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and Charlotte DOT to discuss how each state and the city of Charlotte would be affected.
Sections of Interstates I-26, I-126 and I-20 in the Midlands area also are being considered. Projections are that traffic on these interstates will double by the year 2030. A corridor task force has been in place to study all the possibilities for managing the anticipated traffic growth over the next two decades. The task force has identified 39 strategies. Possible HOV and HOT lanes are two of the 39. The areas that will be examined for these lanes are:
• A 9.22 mi. (14.8 km) segment from the I-26/U.S. 176 interchange in Irmo, to the Huger Street (U.S. 21) exit on I-126 near downtown Columbia. There is no widening potential for these two interstates and it is one of the two most heavily traveled sections of interstate highways in the state.
• A 7.22-mi. (11.6 km) segment of I-26 from the I-126 interchange heading toward Orangeburg to the U.S. 321 exit.
• A nearly 6-mi. (9.7 km) segment of I-20, east of I-77 in the northeast area of Richland County. This portion of I-20 has the potential for widening, however no construction funds are available at this time.
• A 14.45-mi. (23.3 km) segment of I-20, west of the I-77 interchange in northeast Richland County to U.S. 378 in Lexington County. This section of I-20 is heavily traveled and has no widening possibilities.
A 6.45 mi. (10.4 km) segment of I-385 east of I-85 has been explored as it is one of the most heavily traveled sections of this interstate. This segment has widening potential. However, any HOV/HOT lanes used on this section should be coordinated with the widening of I-385 from north of West Georgia Road to I-85 to provide a continuous six-lane section from Simpsonville to downtown Greenville. There are no construction funds currently available for any widening.
Transportation Secretary H.B. Limehouse said that all of these efforts to examine possible HOV/HOT lanes are worthwhile.
“Part of our daily business is to look for any solutions that would incur the least expense to the taxpayers. Even if the eventual outcome shows that HOV or HOT lanes are not practical in any locations around the state, we would not be doing our jobs if we didn’t explore the possibilities,” Limehouse said.
Gov. Mark Sanford encouraged SCDOT to expand the study of I-26 in the Charleston area to other regions of the state.
“Looking at ideas like HOV and HOT lanes are part of this age-old theme of doing more with less and maximizing the resources that we already have in place, all of which is key to starting to address our state’s infrastructure challenges,” Sanford said. “I’d give DOT credit for looking at these options, and we’re going to be working with DOT as we go forward to begin examining some other ideas on this front as well.”
The studies that will be conducted on all of these interstates in South Carolina will include many opportunities for public comment through public meetings and surveys.