- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

Construction of car pool lanes along a 7.9-mile stretch of U.S. Route 50 are on pace to be completed in mid-October, about a month earlier than planned, a Maryland highway official said yesterday.

The high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, one heading in each direction, will stretch from slightly east of U.S. 301 to just west of I-495 and will not surpass the $18.9 million allocated for the project, said David Buck, spokesman for the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Travel in the lanes will be restricted at all times to vehicles with two or more people, or to those that run on exclusively compressed natural gas or propane. Two hundred such vehicles are registered in Maryland.

When the project is complete, the highway administration will use its Web site and other means to remind drivers to car pool and use the HOV lanes.

"It's only going to be as effective as the people who use it," Mr. Buck said.

While the lanes will be useful on a day-to-day basis for those who work in the District, the extra lanes also will be especially helpful when families are heading to the beach via Route 50, Mr. Buck said.

The decision to keep the lanes restricted at all times was sparked by wrecks that occurred in Virginia after the transition of a shoulder to an HOV lane. Mr. Buck said drivers became confused as to whether, at a particular time, an HOV lane was available to use as a shoulder.

"To avoid that confusion, we wanted to make sure it was a full 24-hour, seven-day-a-week lane," he said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation may consider allowing drivers of hybrid vehicles to use the lanes after they have been open for two years, Mr. Buck said, adding that the state will need to see whether the proliferation of hybrid vehicles and resulting increased usage of the lanes would nullify the benefits of having the additional lanes.

Mr. Buck said construction, which began in June 2001, has gone smoothly because the new lanes were built in an area where there were no traffic lanes, only shoulders or medians. Also, the lack of rain in the area prevented slowdowns.

The project also includes the $3.6 million formation of sound barriers for the Princeton Square and Ardmore communities, along with some previously completed resurfacing and ramp extension near the Beltway. The sound barriers should be finished by the end of the year, Mr. Buck said.

"While we were in the area, it made sense to get it all done at once," he said.

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