Q: Why aren’t the carpool provisions ever enforced on the HOV lane from South Union Avenue onto eastbound state Route 16 in Tacoma? – Sarah S., Tacoma
A: Alas, the priorities of the Washington State Patrol lie elsewhere, Sarah.
But before we expound on that, let us recount Sarah’s query in fuller detail.
On weekdays, she drops her son at a sitter in Tacoma’s North End before heading to her job in Olympia via Union Avene, state Route 16 and then Interstate 5.
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In an email to Traffic Q&A headquarters, she described her commute as “lovely and easygoing.”
Ha! We know sarcasm when we see it, our dear Ms. Sarah (although it helped that she pointed it out with a little note and emoji).
Anyhoo, she went on to deplore the number of scofflaws she sees violating both the letter and spirit of the state’s carpool laws when she arrives at the Union Avenue-Route 16 interchange.
Two lanes of southbound Union are designated for turning left onto the freeway on-ramp there, one of them clearly marked as carpool only.
“However, every single morning several cars that I know for a fact are single-occupant (I drive an SUV and I can see down into their car, especially when we are sitting at the light waiting to turn left off Union to enter the freeway) completely ignore or just don’t care that they are breaking a traffic law by driving in that lane,” Sarah wrote.
On she forged:
“One gentleman saw me looking beady-eyed at him and inspecting the interior of his car, then, as soon as the light turned green, he sped off, possibly assuming I was going to write down his license number (ain’t nobody got time for that, LOL).”
Laugh out loud, indeed, except that cheating is no laughing matter!
Sarah then asked, “Should the HOV lane even exist if that many people blatantly violate it? Furthermore, I have never seen it regulated.”
As we were brought up in the if-your-mother-tells-you-she-loves-you-you-still-need-to-verify-it school of journalism, we loaded into the beat-up Honda Accord to reconnoiter one day last week.
Sarah might be many things (a cavalier user of the word “ain’t” comes to mind), but she speaks the truth.
We witnessed nearly a dozen solo drivers using the carpool lane to access Route 16 from Union. This, mind you, was at midday. We can only imagine how bad the cheating might be during the morning rush.
We, too, would have given those scofflaws the old beady-eye, except that our peepers were stinging from the biting cold and whipping wind, so we beat feet back to HQ, where we refilled our coffee mug and telephoned State Patrol Trooper Todd Bartolac.
Bartolac was sympathetic in a nonsympathetic kind of way.
“It’s just not a high priority as far as collisions go,” he said.
The State Patrol barely has enough troopers on the road to respond to the high number of wrecks occurring on I-5 and other state roads in the Pierce County region, Bartolac said.
Assigning one during the morning rush to monitor “a freeway on-ramp from a city street” would be, well, he didn’t say it, but we will, a bit wasteful.
“It’s not that it’s not important,” Bartolac mollified. “We’d love to be everywhere and do everything for everybody, but we’re under a crunch.”
The good trooper did say he’d mention Sarah’s concerns to his lieutenant.
Meanwhile, though, the state Department of Transportation does have a hot line for reporting carpool violators. The number is 1-877-764-HERO.
We’ve written in the past about what happens when a person makes a report to that line. The upshot? The violator gets the old beady-eye from state officials in the form of a warning letter.