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HOV San Antonio Area Freeway System
HOV Lanes

This page last updated August 22, 2021

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Transportation planners (as well as many citizens) have realized that simply adding new general-purpose lanes in 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 such as 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.

With 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.

The 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 lanes.

While TxDOT initially builds the HOV lanes, VIA operates them.


Current HOV lanes

Currently, 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 for those have been approved locally, so the regular occupancy requirements apply.

The HOV lanes are on the inside lane next to the center barrier. They are separated from the main traffic lanes by a buffer 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.

HOV entrance signTo 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 the HOV 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.

To 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.

The 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 281.)

The HOV lanes are in operation 24 hours a day. Use of the HOV lane without the required occupancy or unsafe crossing of the buffer area can result in a citation.

All 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.

For more details, see this informational video from VIA.



VIA HOV informational video

(More HOV lane information from VIA is at https://www.viainfo.net/hov)

Future HOV lanes

HOV 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 I-35 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.

Below are typical cross-sections for the currently planned HOV lanes in the various corridors.


Stone Oak Pkwy. to Borgfeld Rd.



Bandera Rd. to I-35 North



Rittiman Rd. to FM 3009


FAQ

  • What are the requirements to use the HOV lanes?
    The HOV lanes are open to passenger vehicles with two or more passengers (HOV 2+), vanpools, VIA buses, motorcycles, and emergency vehicles. Vehicles with trailers and trucks over one ton (payload capacity) are prohibited. Electric/hybrid vehicles have not been specifically exempted, so they must have two or more passengers to use the HOV lane. The HOV lanes operate 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 only the driver use the HOV lane?
    No. 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 change?
    Yes, 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?
    HOV 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 the 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 generally 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 upcoming freeway exits that are accessible by 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.

    The 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 so. HOV 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 barriers can be added at a later time if it is determined they're warranted.

  • HOV lanes seem confusing to use.
    While 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 signs and markings, plan your exit in advance, and change lanes carefully where indicated. If you're still unsure, then you can simply not use them.

  • The HOV lane merges will cause bottlenecks.
    To 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 and several entrance ramps with heavy traffic volumes; these are more likely to be the cause for any congestion there and would have been even 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. The two 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 lanes enforced?
    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 from behind?
    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 in.


  • I will not use the HOV lane, so it won't benefit me. My taxes shouldn't pay for something I won't use.
    Even if you don't use the HOV lane, you still derive a benefit from it in 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 HOV 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.
    Actually, 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 to expand. 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.

    It's also important to note that in all cases locally thus far, the addition of an HOV lane 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?
    This 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 cargo even with the large gaps in between.

  • Nobody wants HOV lanes.
    That's 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 the mainlanes adjacent to HOV lanes increased an average of 12 mph after the HOV facilities opened.


  • Why build short stretches of HOV lanes on I-10 and US 281 when there aren't any others in San Antonio?
    The inclusion of HOV lanes in freeway projects is a recent change in local transportation planning policy and the I‑10 and US 281 projects were in development when that policy was put into effect, so HOV lanes were included in those projects. 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. Remember that San Antonio's freeway system started with just a short section of I-10 between Woodlawn and Culebra that provided no significant connectivity but was part of a bigger plan. "Rome wasn't built in a day." 

  • The construction required to build the HOV lanes was an unnecessary inconvenience.
    All HOV lanes to-date here have been or will be built as part of larger 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 government social-engineering.
    Some 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 evils.

  • 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 approved 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 local congestion mitigation plan as well as the air quality plan, the latter of which has 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 several advanced transportation corridor options found that HOV lanes ranked as one of the best 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.


Other sites of interest

VIA - HOV lanes
https://www.viainfo.net/hov
TxDOT - I-10 from FM 3351 to La Cantera Parkway
http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/projects/studies/san-antonio/i10-fm3351-la-cantera-pkwy.html
I-10 project animation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qx0JoFYAt8k&feature=youtu.be
TxDOT - US 281 from Loop 1604 to Borgfeld Drive
http://www.txdot.gov/inside-txdot/projects/studies/san-antonio/us-281-1604-borgfeld.html
US 281 project animation
http://www.411on281.com/index.html#myTab2




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