Could Opening the Carpool Lane For a Few Extra Hours Alleviate Traffic Woes?

One Massachusetts state rep sure thinks so.

State Representative Josh Cutler thinks an extra hour tacked onto the high occupancy vehicle lanes on Interstate 93, during both the morning and evening commute, could make a world of difference when it comes to easing traffic.

On Wednesday, Cutler will introduce a bill on Beacon Hill before the Joint Committee on Transportation, asking that they consider pushing through his recommendation to free-up the “zipper lanes”—better known as carpool or HOV lanes—to northbound and southbound traffic on the busy highway.

Cutler’s proposal calls for the northbound carpool lane to be open from 5 a.m. until 10 a.m., and the southbound lanes to be accessible from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., both of which are critical rush hour commute times. “As one of the ‘tools’ in our transportation toolbox, the zipper lane is an effective one, but it can be even better. That’s the purpose of [this bill], which simply expands the hours the zipper lane is open both for the morning and the evening commute,” Cutler said. “This will allow more commuters more time to take advantage of the HOV lane and also reduce the congestion that can sometimes occur as drivers queue up early in the morning to wait for the lane to open.”

Currently, the so-called zipper lanes are accessible to drivers with more than one passenger in a vehicle from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. Cutler’s proposal would add just a couple of extra hours to their daily use, twice a day.

MassDOT and MassHighway created the lanes on Interstate 93 as a way to encourage ride-sharing and improve the flow of traffic, according to their website.

The lanes, which extend six miles north of Furnace Brook Parkway in Quincy to Freeport Street in Dorchester, require the use of a special “Zipper Truck” to put up a flexible barrier wall to create the carpool lanes on the left side of the highway in each direction during the busiest commuting hours. To create the lanes on the northbound and southbound directions, MassDOT borrows a lane from the off-peak side of the roadway.

Sara Lavoie, a spokesperson from MassDOT, said the state agency is currently running longer carpool lane hours due to construction in the Callahan Tunnel. But once construction is complete in March, they will consider keeping the longer hours. “We are reviewing how possible adjustments to those hours may impact the commute. For example, using data collected—both traditional traffic counts, and the data on travel times collected from our Real Time traffic boards—we will be looking to see if a permanent 2 p.m. opening would have a positive effect on the commute. Also, we will look to see what a 5:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. opening might mean for commuters, instead of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m.,” she said.

Cutler said as more and more drivers leave for work early, providing additional access to the lanes for those carpooling would help get everyone to where they are going without the dread of constant traffic buildup. “Adapting the zipper lane to keep up with these changing times is a sensible, inexpensive way to encourage more drivers to carpool and cut down on highway congestion,” he said.