This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Rep. Kenneth Sumsion wants more people to use the express lanes on freeways. He would give them an incentive. He's sponsoring a bill that would allow highway officials to raise the speed limit as high as 75 miles per hour in the express lane on highways where the limit in other lanes is 65 mph.
That's not a good idea for three reasons. First, safety. People who travel in the express lanes (also known as the high occupancy vehicle lanes) already worry that drivers in other lanes will jump the double white line improperly into the express lane to pass another vehicle. Because travel in the express lanes often is faster, a slower vehicle jumping into the lane unexpectedly can cause an accident, because drivers in the express lane don't have time to react.
In addition, if the official speed limit in the lane becomes 70 or 75, drivers will travel at 75 or 80. People really don't need an incentive to driver faster. They already do it.
Second, one purpose of the express lanes is to encourage fuel efficiency. People traveling with more than one person per vehicle achieve that. But allowing people to drive faster in the express lanes would reduce fuel efficiency, because it requires more gasoline or diesel to run a vehicle at higher speeds.
True, that difference would not negate the efficiency of carpools, but it would reduce it. What with the foul air quality along the Wasatch Front, particularly during winter temperature inversions, leaders should be dreaming up new ways to get more bang for each gallon of gas, not the other way around.
Sumsion, who lives in American Fork, is one of the Utah drivers who pays a special toll to travel by himself in the express lane. He has a transponder on his car that keeps track of his use of the express lane and charges him for it. He believes other drivers would subscribe to the service if they could not only drive solo in the express lane but do it at a faster speed.
Allowing people to buy their way into the express raises equity issues. After all, everyone pays the same fuel taxes to support the highways. But at least people who pay a special toll are, in essence, buying the privilege of making the freeways more efficient for everyone by filling up the express lane, particularly during rush hour. However, allowing those same people the privilege of buying a faster speed limit rubs us the wrong way.
Ideally, the express lane would be limited only to those who are car-pooling. Cleaning up the air and saving gas money should be incentive enough.