These Political Leaders Trying to Fix Traffic Have a Plan


he transit debate in Middle Tennessee is hot because very expensive solutions are just about the only proposals being discussed. Faced with the choice of higher taxes, tolls, or waiting for self driving cars – finding the right recipe for success is a trick. In searching for an alternative approach we can’t help but look at the benefits of enforcing existing HOV laws in Tennessee.

HOV Lanes are out of control. The question is asked: who is doing something about it?
Police have said it is not a <a href=””>priority</a>, but priorities for police and enforcement are set by policy. No part of the Mayor’s transit plan directly presents penalties or addresses incentives to bring fewer cars downtown. Car traffic is not part of the Mayor’s transit plan, but cars are the villian, right?

While Mayor Barry can enforce HOV lane laws, their priority is to expand bus transit and build a new light rail system. Voters decide on May 1st. Policy change requires leadership in the state legislature. Doing something that will demonstrably help traffic congestion and commute times can hardly be controversial. That goal can be met by finding a way to increase compliance with existing laws and existing resources, but both are broken. HOV lanes exist, but they’re clogged with violators, <a href=””>according</a> to TDOT, up to 94 percent of the time.

So what is being done? Some lawmakers are trying to fix the situation and the Senate bill is set to do just that this session.

In the Tennessee State House of Representatives and in the state Senate, several legislators are working on passing a bill that would do something to increase enforcement– with just a few simple changes to the way HOV is approached.

A RideShare Commuter Incentive Act was presented in both houses last year. It provides for a few modest, but legislators feel effective, changes to the way the state deals with its HOV lane and compliance, which is among the lowest in the country.

In essence, the bill would simply increase fines for HOV lane violation– in Tennessee the $50 is among the lowest in the country and at the federal minimum allowed. In California the same violation cost $490, in Connecticut it is $401. Even in neighboring Georgia the base fine is $101. Many states like Colorado and Virginia have escalating fines for repeat offenders. Almost all states charge a point or more against your drivers’ license — something Tennessee does not have.

The current version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Michael Curcio in the House and Senator Jack Johnson in the Senate, raises that fine to $100 for first time offenders coupled with a modest escalator, of $200 for the next violation and $300 for three or more tickets. There was a much stronger version requiring increased enforcement that was defeated in the House transportation committee. The ‘watered down’ version, as described above, is now being put forth, most likely, in the house and then will be voted on in the senate.
The bill also would provide more signage— making sure drivers are aware of the HOV laws, the lanes and the fines for violating them.

The bill has been fully endorsed by the local business community, including the Chamber of Commerce, known as Williamson, Inc. and the the Williamson Business PAC. Mayors, <a href=””>including</a> Corey Napier consider this a problem for their constituents who drive the greatest distances but are denied the benefits of HOV lanes when they go to the trouble to carpool.

The current version of the bill passed in the senate Transportation Committee last session, but was not brought to a full vote in the senate before adjournment. In the house, the earlier version with stricter penalties and more enforcement failed to make it out of the House Transportation Committee last session. But the new version, amended to reconcile with the Senate language, can be brought back for vote before the committee. The current, just-begun session of the House needs a member of the House Transportation Committee to bring the bill up again, according to the rules of the House, before it can be voted on by the entire body to become law.

Rep. Barry Doss, the chair of the Transportation Committee, is the one who holds the power here. He can bring the amended version of the bill up for a vote before the House transportation committee, which if it passes there can then go up for a full vote before the entire house.

The amended bill, however, first needs to be introduced by its original sponsor, Rep. Curcio.

Doss did not return repeated calls for interview requests.

Curcio hopes to get the bill out of committee and into law as soon as possible.
‘Why this is important is because it is about getting our transportation house in order,” Curcio said. “It is just as important for Nashville as it is for rural and satellite communities, and I see it as a rural development issue. If you live in Dickson or Spring Hill and you can get into the core in an efficient commute time and even better if there is a bus [that can move in the HOV lane] then more people will want to move to those communities and they will thrive.’

The bill filing deadline will be the beginning of February, and Curcio said he hopes to get things moving before then so it can pass this session.

“Then it just depends on what the will of the committee is, and I have been in conversations with members of the committee to let them understand what it does and what it does not do,” Curcio said. ‘It does not force people to carpool. Any resistance we hit last year was probably more a function of my not doing a great job of explaining the legislation. We are not accustomed, the average Tennessean is not as familiar with the concept of HOV, and I don’t see it as a partisan or even rural versus urban issue. It is just a common sense issue to help traffic.”

Representative Sam Whitson, who has co-sponsored the bill, said he will support the bill, when it is reintroduced by Curcio.

“If we are going to have HOV lanes we need enforcement,” he said. “And I think HOV enforcement if it would encourage carpooling and less cars on the road and make commutes easier, it makes sense. Especially if it is a low cost option to the taxpayers. Anything like that I would be on board with.”

Johnson, in the senate, said he would support a full vote on the bill in the senate, once the house passes its amended version.

“I think it is important for the readers to know that quite frankly I am not a big fan of HOV lanes,” he said. “I get a lot of calls and complaints about their mere existence. But the federal government unfortunately has us over a barrel here relative to [the State’s obligation] whether we have them or not.”

Interestingly, the number one topic of complaints registered with TDOT is the opposite. Reports show overwhelming numbers of people calling to complain about anything related to the Tennessee roadway system, is a complaint about Tennessee having HOV lanes and not enforcing the law.

“But the point is we have them,” continues Senator Johnson, “and we get complaints from people who use them properly about people driving in them when they shouldn’t. We are trying to go to more voluntary compliance. At the end of day most of my constituents would say if you have to have them then it is not fair to people who obey the law to see people violating it.”

Time will tell what happens, when and if the bill is introduced this session.


<strong>Related Stories:</strong>

<a href=””>Why HOV Lanes Should Be Used, But Are Not</a>

<a href=””>Tennessee HOV Enforcement Lowest in Country</a>

<a href=””>What the Future of Williamson County Traffic Looks Like</a>

<a href=””>Reducing Congestion in Nashville</a>