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Questions HOVer over lanes

POULSBO — It’s a question many State Route 305 commuters have been asking themselves: just how are the new high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes along one of North Kitsap’s most traversed stretches of roadway going to work?

The answer is one the city of Poulsbo is preparing to give as the lanes are readied to open later this month.

Implemented as part of the Washington State Department of Transportation’s SR 305 widening project, the HOV lanes were created in an attempt to unclog congestion plaguing the thoroughfare and allow better access through Little Norway for Kitsap Transit buses. The project provides more federal funding for the widening work and follows recommendations made for the lanes in a 1996 Parametrix traffic study.

While their placement — and presence — has some concerned, the city and its police department are set to educate and acclimate drivers to the newest lane additions on SR 305, and ascertain whether they are performing as expected.

Poulsbo Police Department Chief Dennis Swiney said the process will be an educational one for both drivers and officers as the new flow of traffic begins. A grace period will be extended to motorists as they adjust. Officers will be out not to ticket, but to fill drivers in on when and how to use the lanes, while simultaneously monitoring the affect they have to ensure they are working properly.

“Everyone should understand what the intent of an HOV lane is,” Swiney said. “It’s going to be a learning period for us.”

The HOV lanes will be restricted at peak hours to only HOV vehicles — those with at least one additional passenger, but even solo motorists can utilize them to turn off or onto the highway. The DOT, city of Poulsbo and Kitsap Transit are still polishing the system and will continue to meet and evaluate the lanes’ HOV status.

The tentative hours set for when the lanes will serve HOV vehicles only are 6-9 a.m. and 4-7 p.m., though the times may shift to earlier in the day or be condensed, said Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade. Once the days and times HOV enforcement will be in effect are firmly decided, signs will be made and posted along the roadway. Enforcement duties will be shared between the PPD and Washington State Patrol, but at first, it will be all about spreading the word.

“It is going to be a time to get people accustomed,” Quade said.

Though some recognize the HOV lanes as opportunities to put the pedal to the medal while other traffic sits bumper to bumper, the consequences for noncompliance could hold some serious ramifications. According to the DOT Web site, over 10,000 tickets were issued to HOV violators elsewhere last year, each ticket wrunning a pricey $124.

Washingtonians do have a healthy track record with the lanes despite the grumbling they often cause. The average HOV lane violation in the area is less than 5 percent — one of the lowest rates in the country, according to the DOT.

Though the SR 305 lanes will be partially opened this month, a section between Highway 3 and SR 307 will be delayed until more construction is completed. For more information on the SR 305 widening project, visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR305/PoulsboSouthtoBondRd/. To learn more about HOV lanes win the state, check out www.wsdot.wa.gov/HOV/default.htm.

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