planners (as well as many citizens) have realized that simply adding
new general-purpose lanes
major corridors is only a short-term solution to traffic congestion.
Before long, the
new lanes are just as congested as before and there's little
or no room
to add even more lanes. Instead, transportation projects need to
focus on moving people,
not just cars. High-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes are one way
to do that and have been successfully used in many cities in the United
States and abroad. Furthermore,
HOV lanes help to "future-proof" a corridor by building-in
lanes today that can possibly be used for new transportation options
autonomous vehicles. Finally, HOV lanes can help to reduce emissions,
which is an important consideration now that Bexar County has
officially exceeded federal air quality standards.
the removal of proposed toll lanes from planned expansion projects
outside Loop 1604 on
I-10 West and US 281 North, planners realized an
opportunity to include San Antonio's
first HOV lanes in those projects. These two locations will serve
as "starter" HOV projects with nearly 70 miles of HOV lanes planned.
HOV lanes were also added to the Loop 1604 expansion project after toll
lanes were scrapped.
city's first HOV lane opened on September 26th, 2020 on eastbound I-10
from Ralph Fair Rd. to La Cantera Pkwy.
With that opening, San
Antonio joined Houston and Dallas as cities in Texas with HOV
initially builds the HOV
lanes, VIA operates them.
there are HOV lanes on I-10 West
between La Cantera Pkwy. and Ralph Fair Rd. and on US 281 from
Evans Rd. to Stone Oak Pkwy. In both cases, there is one HOV lane in each direction and it is buffer-separated from the adjacent
general-purpose mainlanes. Here is
the typical cross-section of I-10 and US 281 with HOV lanes (note the
number of mainlanes varies on US 281):
How to use the HOV lanes
To use the HOV lanes, you must have two or more
people ("2+") in your
vehicle including the driver. Children count toward this occupancy
requirement. No special tags or permits are required and the HOV lanes
are toll-free. Motorcycles are also allowed to use the HOV lanes even
with no additional passengers.
Vehicles hauling trailers are prohibited. While some other cities allow
electric or hybrid vehicles to use HOV lanes, no exemptions
have been approved locally, so the regular occupancy
HOV lanes are on the inside lane next to the center
barrier. They are separated from the main traffic lanes by
area marked by solid white lines which you should not cross. Instead,
you should enter or exit the
HOV lanes at either end or at designated intermediate
entry/egress points. At those locations, the HOV lane buffer will
change to a
broken white line indicating where you can enter or exit the lane.
enter the HOV lane, look for the HOV lane entrance signs overhead--
like the one shown here-- that
indicate where you can enter the lane. If you're entering at an
intermediate access point, be sure to check for traffic already in
lane before merging into it. If you are already in the HOV lane, be
sure to watch for vehicles entering the lane and be prepared to give
them some room to safely merge.
leave the HOV lane, carefully merge to the right at the exit location.
Be sure to plan ahead
for your exit and only exit the HOV lane at the designated exit points.
If you are in the left mainlane at an HOV lane exit, be sure to watch
for vehicles merging into your lane from the HOV lane and be prepared
to give them some
room to safely merge.
US 281 HOV lane can also be accessed directly from the Stone Oak Park
& Ride via an overpass from the garage's upper level, and HOV lane
users can access the Park & Ride directly via an exit from the
HOV lane. This connection is also used by buses traveling to and from
the Park & Ride. (Currently, traffic to and front the Park &
Ride is limited to the HOV lanes south of the facility. When
construction on US 281 north of Stone Oak Pkwy. is complete, traffic
will be able to access the Park & Ride to/from both directions on
HOV lanes are in operation 24 hours a day. Use of the HOV lane without
occupancy or unsafe crossing of the buffer area can result in a
signage pertaining to the HOV lane has "HOV" and the black and
white diamond symbol and will be positioned to the left. Some
HOV-related signage is green but has a
black and white HOV tab at the top to indicate that it pertains to the
HOV lane, such as the example above.
more details, see this informational video from VIA.
lanes are now under
construction on US 281 North from Stone
Oak Pkwy./TPC Pkwy. north to Borgfeld Rd. (i.e. an extension of the current short stretch from Evans to Stone Oak), and on Loop
1604 from Bandera Rd. to I-10 (with future plans all the way to I-35.) Additionally,
HOV lanes are included in the upcoming expansions of
North and on Loop 1604 from
I-10 to US 281.
Also, a future expansion project on I-10 will extend the those HOV
lanes all the way to SH 46 in
Boerne. When those projects are done, there will be about 70 miles of
HOV lanes in the San Antonio area. Furthermore, planners
are studying how to continue
the I-10 and US 281 HOV lanes inside Loop 1604. Planners in the 1980s
actually included provisions in the double-decked sections of I-10 for
a possible future HOV lane.
are typical cross-sections for the currently planned HOV lanes in the
Stone Oak Pkwy. to Borgfeld Rd.
Bandera Rd. to I-35 North
Rittiman Rd. to FM 3009
What are the requirements to
use the HOV lanes?
lanes are open to
passenger vehicles with two or more passengers (HOV 2+), vanpools, VIA
motorcycles, and emergency vehicles. Vehicles with
trailers and trucks over one ton (payload capacity) are
prohibited. Electric/hybrid vehicles have not been specifically
they must have two or more passengers to use the HOV lane. The HOV
full-time (i.e. 24 hours a day.)
Do children count as passengers
for the HOV lane?
Yes, all human occupants of a vehicle count.
Can electric/hybrid vehicles with
the driver use the HOV lane?
While some cities allow single-occupancy electric vehicles to use HOV
lanes, that exception has not been made here, so electric vehicles must
meet the 2+ occupancy requirement to use local HOV lanes.
Can the HOV lane requirements
the lanes will be monitored and changes to the occupancy requirements,
permitted vehicles, time of operation, or other operational aspects can
be adjusted if needed.
Where can traffic
enter and exit the HOV lanes?
lanes are located to the left of the
general-purpose mainlanes. Therefore, traffic must enter the HOV
lane from the leftmost general-purpose mainlane, and traffic exiting
HOV lane merges into the left mainlane. To maintain safe
traffic flow in the HOV lane and adjacent mainlanes, there are
designated locations to enter and exit the HOV lanes. These include
each end of the HOV corridor as well as intermediate locations
spaced two to three miles apart. These entrances and exits are marked
using signage topped with the standard black and white
diamond symbol to differentiate it from the signs for the
general-purpose lanes. Exit signs for the HOV lane designate the
freeway exits that are accessible
leaving the HOV lane at that point. The HOV lane exit is placed an adequate
distance upstream from those exits so that traffic has sufficient room
to safely merge to the right to reach the intended exit. Drivers in the
mainlanes at HOV exit points should be courteous and allow traffic
exiting the HOV lane to safely merge.
US 281 HOV lane also has an dedicated overpass and ramps directly
connecting the HOV
lane to the Stone Oak Park & Ride garage. Carpools can access
the HOV lane directly from the upper level of the garage and return via
an exit from the HOV lane.
How are the HOV lanes marked and
separated from the general-purpose mainlanes?
A buffer area marked with solid white lines separates the HOV
lane from the adjacent lanes. The buffer area will change to a broken
white line at locations where you can enter or exit the lane. The HOV
lane itself is marked with a
white diamond symbol on the pavement every 500 feet or
lane signage has "HOV" and the standard black and white diamond
symbol to differentiate it from signage for the general lanes.
Early plans for US 281 proposed to use flexible
bollards between the HOV lane and the mainlanes, but due to expected
maintenance costs, the final plan did not include them. Bollards or
can be added at a later time if it is determined they're warranted.
HOV lanes seem confusing to use.
it might seem confusing at first glance, they're really not any more
difficult than making a simple lane change. Just pay attention to the
and markings, plan your exit in advance, and change lanes carefully
where indicated. If you're still unsure, then you can simply not use
The HOV lane merges will cause
date, the HOV merges on I-10 have not caused significant
issues. On both I-10 and US 281, the
southern HOV lane ends are also near the Loop 1604 interchange
several entrance ramps with heavy traffic volumes; these are more
likely to be the cause for any congestion there and would have been
without the HOV lanes. On US 281, the southern end of the HOV lane
actually becomes a new general-purpose lane (i.e. no forced merging.)
On I-10, the northern HOV lane end is in
the vicinity where the third general-purpose lane also ends.
merges have been staggered to help ameliorate any issues. The current
northern end of the US 281 HOV lane merges into the mainlanes at the
end of the freeway segment; this is a temporary condition and the end
of the freeway and start of the work zone are the primary cause of
congestion there and were even before the HOV lane opened.
How are the HOV
Each HOV lane has enforcement areas where police can monitor
usage. Per state law, violators can be ticketed and fined.
What should I do if I'm in the
HOV lane and an emergency vehicle with lights and siren on approaches
You should do the same thing you would do if you were in the left lane
of a freeway that didn't have an HOV lane, and that is to find a gap in
the next lane to the right and move over as quickly and safely as
possible, even if it means crossing the solid white lines. This may require speeding up if there isn't a gap right where
you are, but hopefully other drivers will see what was happening and let you
I will not use the HOV lane, so
it won't benefit me. My taxes shouldn't pay for something I won't use.
if you don't use the HOV lane, you still derive a benefit from
that every vehicle that uses the HOV lane is one or more vehicles that
won't be in the general-purpose mainlanes, thus helping to ease overall
congestion as well as pollution. A report on
the Dallas HOV lanes in 2001 indicated that speeds in
the mainlanes adjacent to HOV lanes increased an average of 12
mph after the HOV facilities opened. That said, we all pay taxes
for many things we don't use or directly benefit from but that benefit
everyone generally. Don't forget that the people who use the
lanes are also taxpayers. If it helps, assume that their taxes paid for
the HOV lane while your taxes paid for the additional mainlanes.
San Antonio isn't a carpooling
city, so HOV lanes will be underutilized.
according to 2019 Census data downloaded and crunched by yours truly,
of the 50 largest metro areas in the US, San Antonio has one of the
highest rates of carpooling: 5th in percentage of automobile commuters
and first in percentage of all commuters.
Instead of an HOV lane, another
general-purpose mainlane would provide more capacity.
Yes, having an extra
mainlane in place of an HOV lane would provide more general-purpose
capacity. But the benefit would be short-lived because that extra lane
will soon also become congested and will leave less room (if any) then
With an HOV lane, planners build-in a corridor that can be used
now and well into the future to move more people through
the corridor in carpools and buses, people who won't be clogging the
mainlanes in their single-occupancy cars. Freeway corridors are
more than just pathways for vehicles-- they're high-capacity transportation
corridors that need to be considered not only for their ability to move
vehicles, but also their ability to move people. These two
purposes can coexist and HOV lanes are a way of doing that.
A new general-purpose mainlane, while providing immediate
gratification, is myopic in the long-run; HOV lanes reflect a
more sophisticated long-term planning desired by many citizens. HOV
lanes also preserve a corridor for future transportation options such
as autonomous vehicles.
also important to note that in all cases locally thus far, the addition of an
to a corridor has not been at the expense of another general-purpose
lane. In other words, the number of new general-purpose lanes being
added to the corridors where HOV lanes are being added is the same as
would have been added without an HOV lane, and the HOV lanes were added
as part of larger projects that included new general-purpose lanes.
The HOV lane is empty most of the
time. How is this beneficial?
is by design. HOV lanes are intended to be congestion-free most of the
time in order to provide the incentive to carpool or use transit, which
then yields the benefits for everyone as mentioned elsewhere in this
FAQ. If the lane was often congested, then it would be no better than
the other lanes, which would defeat its purpose. Remember that each
vehicle using an HOV lane is typically the equivalent of two or more
single-occupancy vehicles, so the HOV lane is moving more people at a time using
fewer vehicles. One way to think about it is this-- railroad tracks are
"empty" most of the time, but when a section of track is occupied
by a train, it's moving a high density of people or
even with the large gaps in between.
Nobody wants HOV lanes.
simply not true. Of the over 3,500 respondents to the SA
Tomorrow transportation planning survey in 2015, 76% either agreed or
strongly-agreed that HOV lanes should be an
important part of San
Antonio's transportation future. Anecdotally, the author of this
website attends nearly
every public meeting for transportation projects and has consistently
heard broad-based public support for HOV lanes.
Houston and Dallas have HOV lanes
but they're still congested, so this proves that HOV lanes don't work.
This is a fallacy and is a bit like saying that because a city has a
police department but still has a lot of crime, then it proves that
having a police department isn't a solution to crime. One could also say that
since Houston and Dallas both also have plenty of wide freeways
(Houston has the widest freeway in the world), this proves that
expanding roads also doesn't work. In reality, nothing
is ever going to completely solve congestion, so it takes a combination
of strategies to attack congestion from different angles. So while
HOV lanes on their own won't completely solve congestion, they're
another tool in the toolbox, and things would likely
be worse without them. Affirming that, a report
on the Dallas HOV lanes in 2001 indicated that speeds in
adjacent to HOV lanes increased an average of 12 mph after the HOV
Why build short stretches of HOV
lanes on I-10 and US 281 when
there aren't any others in San Antonio?
inclusion of HOV lanes in freeway projects is a recent change in
local transportation planning policy and the I‑10 and US 281 projects
that policy was put into effect, so HOV lanes were included in those
Consequently, these could be considered "starter" HOV lanes. Planners
are already considering how to continue
the I-10 and US 281 HOV lanes inside Loop 1604, and future plans for
I-10 from Leon Springs to Boerne include HOV lanes. Beyond
those corridors, HOV
lanes are also now under construction on Loop 1604 and are included in the the upcoming expansion on I-35 North. This
piecemeal approach to building HOV lanes is actually quite common.
freeway system started with just a short section of I-10 between Woodlawn
Culebra that provided no significant connectivity but was part of a
plan. "Rome wasn't built
in a day."
The construction required to
build the HOV lanes was an unnecessary inconvenience.
HOV lanes to-date here have been or will be built as part of
projects that are also adding more general-purpose lanes, i.e. there
was already going to be construction happening anyway, and adding the
HOV lanes to the project did not significantly increase that.
HOV lanes are a form of
people believe this, and that's understandable. But keep in mind the
goal in this case is something that is pretty much universally-desired, that being
reduced congestion. With HOV lanes, the method is an incentive. Instead
of that "carrot", a "stick" such as tolling or
congestion pricing could be used, so one could look at this as
the lesser of two
This is another example of a
harebrained TxDOT plan and is a waste of money.
This was not solely a TxDOT plan. HOV lanes were
as part of the region's federally-mandated long-term transportation
plan by the Alamo Area
Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) as elements of both the
mitigation plan as well as the air quality plan, the latter of which
taken on new urgency given Bexar County's recent designation as being
in non-attainment of federal air quality standards. HOV lanes are
widely used in major cities across the US, and a 2016 MPO study of
transportation corridor options found that HOV lanes ranked as one of
strategies in nearly all of the study corridors. HOV lanes also are a
way to preserve a
corridor for future transportation options such as autonomous vehicles,
and surveys have shown broad-based public support for HOV lanes. The
lanes are a joint effort between TxDOT and VIA and are managed by VIA after construction.
The information provided on this website is provided on an "as-is" basis without
warranties of any kind either express or implied. The author and his agents
make no warranties or representations of any kind concerning any information
contained in this website. This website is provided only as general
information. The author expressly disclaims all liability with respect to
actions taken or not taken based upon the information contained herein or with
respect to any errors or omissions in such information. All opinions expressed
are strictly those of the author. This site is not affiliated in any way with
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