SALT LAKE CITY — Starting Saturday, the cost of driving I-15's express lanes without at least two occupants is going up in Utah.
But if it keeps cars moving along at near freeway speeds, that extra money is worth it, one commuter says.
"When traffic is stopped, (the express pass) is worth its weight in gold," Vineyard resident Daniel Haslam said. "If it's going to save me 10, 15 or 20 minutes over a long commute, I do see tremendous value."
The 27-year-old works as a client strategic architect at a Lehi tech firm and uses the express lanes regularly for commutes to work and occasionally into Salt Lake City. He said over the years, having access to the express lanes has been a major timesaver and a rise in price won't stop him from using them.
The Utah Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it would double the maximum toll to $2 for travel on a segment in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes. UDOT hopes the hike will lower the number of vehicles using the express lanes.
"The idea behind the (increase) is that we want to make the express lanes function in the way they were meant to be," UDOT spokesman John Gleason said.
Federal regulations require speeds in those lanes to remain above 45 mph, he said. However, speeds in Salt Lake County can dip as low as 31 mph during some peak driving periods, he added, which has become a significant congestion issue.
"We're seeing overcrowding," he said. "We'd like to see that (average) speed at 55 miles per hour."
Generally, express lanes are designated for use by carpools, buses, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and C-decal (clean fuel) vehicles, according to the UDOT website. Solo drivers with an Express Pass — a windshield-mounted electronic transponder — may fill any remaining space for a fee.
State law caps the number of C decals to ensure that express lane travel speeds meet standards, according to UDOT's website. As of July 3, the number of C decals issued is 6,635 with 11 C decals available for issuance and 1,344 applications in process.
Meanwhile, Haslam said even with the increase in the peak driving fee, using the express lanes is definitely worth the rather nominal cost.
"Time is money," he said. "I'll probably be very judicious in how I use it more than in the past. If traffic is not too bad, then I probably won't (use) that lane all the way from Vineyard to Salt Lake."
He said in most cases, he'll use the express lanes only when the traffic is especially slow.
Haslam also noted that better enforcement of the rules may help, too.
"A lot of times, traffic will back up and everyone will just jump in the (express lanes) whether they have a pass or not," Haslam said.
According to Gleason, part of the money from the tolls will go to law enforcement to patrol the 72 miles of express lanes from Layton to Spanish Fork, he said.
Drivers are not seeing the "full benefit" of the express lanes because the lanes are too often "clogged," he said.
The Utah High Patrol will be charged with spotting drivers who violate the HOV rules, including solo drivers with no pass and vehicles crossing the double white lines, explained UHP Lt. Todd Royce.
UDOT noted that the violation rate among drivers using the express lanes was approximately 20 percent. Royce said one of the goals of ongoing enforcement will be to address that issue.26 comments on this story
"Drivers need to use the HOV lane appropriately," he said. "When people (don't), it creates problems."
Gleason noted that during the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers approved a maximum toll increase of up to $4 in an effort to encourage more carpooling. UDOT opted to only increase the maximum to $2 per segment, he said, to see if that would achieve the desired result of reducing express lane congestion.
The department will study the effectiveness of the increased fee before considering higher tolls in the future, he added.