Useless HOV Lanes Will Outlive Us All

Useless HOV Lanes Will Outlive Us All

© David Burton 2016

HOV Lanes

     Heading south from Boston on I-95 at rush hour, we are faced with a parking lot of “high-speed” interstate highway. However, on this same highway lies a strip of virtually empty concrete known as the “High Occupancy Vehicle” (HOV) lane, which is noteworthy for the very few "high occupancy" vehicles actually using it. The question that needs to be asked is “If I and hundreds of thousands of motorists can see the utter uselessness of the HOV lanes, why can't the so-called transportation experts being paid by the taxpayers of Massachusetts come to the same conclusion?” Isn’t it their responsibility to determine such facts and to take appropriate action?

     Some ten years ago, the construction of the infamous “Big Dig” traffic tunnel complex in, out and under Boston was in full swing. The Big Dig was infamous because of its horrendous cost overrun. In October of 2005 it was announced that the taxpayers of Massachusetts and the nation as a whole (remember that 80% of the Big Dig costs were being covered by the federal government) would be paying for an HOV lane on Interstate Route I-93 that would connect to a lane on the Zakim Bridge (connecting downtown Boston and Charlestown), which would allow HOV traffic to continue straight into the southbound Big Dig tunnel.

     Back then, in 2005, I posed the question: “why is there an HOV lane in the first place?”[1] The HOV lane concept arose during the Arab oil embargo of the early 1970’s when there was a shortage of gasoline. Some of us remember the long lines at the gas stations and the rules imposed that allowed a car owner to buy gasoline only on odd or even days depending upon his/her license plate number. The HOV lane concept was developed in order to encourage ride sharing so that there would be fewer cars on the road thereby reducing gasoline consumption.

     In 2005, as today, there was no major gasoline shortage. There were and are no lines at gas pumps, and most importantly, since the 1990s HOV lanes have not encouraged ride sharing! During the past 20 or more years, gasoline prices have certainly risen, but the number of cars on the road has continued to increase and there has been no demonstrable increase in car-pooling during commuter rush hours. In fact, since the end of the Arab oil embargo, car-pooling has decreased to near zero! I challenge anyone to name one person who leaves their car at home in order to be able to ride in an HOV lane. That is the reason why the number of automobile occupants has been reduced to 2 to qualify for high occupancy status. People do not join commuter pools simply to ride in the HOV lane! The purpose of HOV lanes has vanished – and so should have HOV lanes long ago.[1]

     The theory behind HOV lanes was valid some 30 years ago during the Arab oil embargo when there was a shortage of gasoline. Since then, completely outdated, and now irrelevant, state and federal transportation laws remain in effect on the premise that commuters will rush to ride-share in order to use the HOV lanes. Drivers may have done so when there was a severe fuel shortage, but they are not doing so now simply because fuel costs have risen.

     The HOV concept was valid in the 1970s. Some apparently thought it was still valid. But,"It hasn’t worked out that way." (Ref. 2)

     What HOV lanes have done is to increase gasoline consumption, inconvenience the majority of commuters and increase atmospheric pollution. During commuter rush hour, the HOV lane is unavailable to the majority of commuters, resulting in fewer lanes to carry the increased commuter traffic. This causes commuters to crawl along in rush hour traffic, burning additional fuel and slowing down their commutes to work or to home while the HOV lane is virtually empty. When a breakdown occurs in the HOV lane, traffic in the HOV lane must come to a halt since there is no way to exit the HOV lane, again resulting in additional fuel consumption and more delays for HOV lane drivers. When a breakdown occurs in the non-HOV lanes, traffic must slow down or halt there, since there is no way to use the HOV lane, again resulting in additional fuel consumption and more delays.[1]

     The bureaucrats in the Massachusetts state government continue to persist in imposing a solution to a problem that once existed some existed 30 years ago and which has long since disappeared. It has long been apparent to everyone except those in state government that the HOV lanes are simply creating problems, not solving them. A little common sense would have shown the state transportation people that it made much greater sense to take the HOV lanes and add them to the other non-HOV travel lanes. In so doing, they would have reduced gasoline consumption, reduced traffic congestion, reduced pollution, reduced driver frustration and eliminated the costs of maintaining separate HOV lanes.[1]

     Ten years ago, it was obvious to me and many thousands of motorists inconvenienced by the HOV lanes that these impediments to efficient traffic management needed to go and I urged that Massachusetts do away with its obsolete and ineffective HOV lanes. Ten years later, the HOV lanes and all their attendant problems remain – a testament to ineffective, obsolete and inefficient government. The way things now stand, these useless HOV lanes will outlive us all!

     What we have with respect to HOV lanes is but one more example of government rules, laws and regulations that continue on long past the time when their need has ceased to exist. What is needed is a requirement that all laws, regulations and rules that are put into effect by the government must be either periodically renewed or allowed to expire. If renewed, the continuation must be justified. There are already too many outdated laws, rules and regulations in existence and the cost of retaining them, when their usefulness and need have long since passed, is incalculable.

     “American laws and regulations tend to be over-detailed and to rob government officials of all initiative and, therefore, responsibility. Case in point: the 2,700-page Obamacare, with a 28-word definitions of ‘high school’ and a (so far) 7-foot-high pile of regulations.” (Ref. 3) What has resulted is “a government run by clerks and jerks.” It is high time to clean house and get rid of these outdated nuisances and costly burdens. We need to stop the currently unrestrained process of issuing new rules and regulations without any thought as to their impact on our economy and our society.

     In 2014, based on government data, the annual cost of environmental and health and safety regulation was estimated at around $1.86 trillion. This is greater than the entire federal budget of the 1990s. Federal regulations are costing a typical American family some $14,974 annually, or 23% of average U.S. household income. In 2013, the Federal Register had ballooned to 79,311 pages and was still growing. In the same year, 3,659 new rules came into being, while Congress and the President only enacted 72 new laws! In effect, new laws are being promulgated by the unelected. And, out of these thousands of new rules and regulations, only seven underwent a full cost-benefit analysis! [4]

     One method of decreasing the number of unnecessary rules and regulations is the incorporation of a sunset provision into each and every new law and regulation. A Sunset Provision is “a statutory provision providing that a particular agency, benefit, or law will expire on a particular date, unless it is reauthorized by the legislature.” (Ref. 5)

     Beginning in the 1950’s, federal and state governments grew dramatically. Many Executive Branch administrative agencies were established to oversee government programs. The number of regulations issued by these agencies exploded commensurately.

     Sunset laws require that an agency, regulation or law will cease to exist after a fixed period of time unless reenacted by the legislature. There are two types of sunset provisions. In the first category, the statute creating the entity (agency, regulation or law) contains a sunset provision applicable to that entity. In the second case, the legislature may enact a general sunset law that may eliminate any entity that is unable to demonstrate its effectiveness.

     In 1993, the first edition of Ten Thousand Commandments, an annual report that tracks the cost and scope of federal regulations, was released. Over the next two decades 81,883 new regulations were issued. That’s a new regulation every two hours and nine minutes—24 hours per day, 365 days per year, for 20 years.[6]

     “. . . {E}very year, agencies continue to issue thousands of regulations costing billions of dollars. What is new is that the costs of federal regulation are at an unprecedented level. The total estimated burden {in 2013} was up to $1.8 trillion per year, or roughly half the size of the federal budget. This is larger than Canada’s entire economy.” (Ref. 6)

     The number of specific regulatory restrictions listed in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) topped one million in 2010. The CFR grew by more than 42,000 pages between 1993 and 2013. The 2013 print edition contained 174,545 thrilling pages—nearly a quarter of which were added since the Clinton administration took office. This print edition takes up 238 volumes, and the index alone runs 1,242 pages. The number of individual regulatory restrictions in the CFR topped one million in 2010. [6] The regulatory process has gotten grossly out of hand! We need a means to rapidly reverse this perverse trend, and the application of Sunset Provisions is one tool to accomplish this. Many, if not most, regulations should be allowed to expire if not periodically reviewed and renewed.

     “The Federal Register is a daily digest that lists all new proposed and final rules, along with other federal documents. The last two decades have seen nearly 1.43 million Federal Register pages published. The Obama administration is responsible for three of the four highest page counts, including a record 81,405 pages in 2011 — an indicator of how busy regulatory agencies have been under President Obama’s watch.
     In 2013, it was reported that: “More regulations are on the way; a little more than 4,000 are now in various stages of the rulemaking process. The Dodd-Frank financial bill alone could require as many as 398 new regulations; less than half have been implemented. The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is likewise still being phased in. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is busy planning its own multi-billion-dollar rules ranging from air quality standards to carbon emission limitations.” (Ref. 6) Remember, this was 2013. Since then, Dodd-Frank and the Affordable Care Act have become law and the torrent of new regulations has continued.

     The American economy is strangling on this unprecedented blizzard of federal regulations. Particularly hard hit are small businesses which can ill afford the extra lawyers, administrators, and additional staff needed to comprehend and comply with the flood of new rules and regulations.

     In addition to the enactment of sunset provision laws, another possible solution is that of “an independent Regulatory Reduction Commission, modeled after the successful Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission of the 1990s, which trimmed billions of dollars’ worth of unneeded military spending. Every year, this commission would comb through the books for old, obsolete, harmful, and redundant rules. It would then submit an annual repeal package to Congress for a prompt up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed. This would prevent vote-trading along the lines of ‘I’ll vote to save your favorite regulation if you vote to save mine.’
     “The Regulatory Reduction Commission would continue to submit repeal packages every year for as long as necessary.” (Ref. 6) - likely forever!

     Another suggestion is that for every new regulation put into effect, an existing regulation would have to be eliminated.[4]

     Former Florida governor, Jeb Bush, proposed several initiatives to bring the issuance of new federal regulations under control. He suggested: the establishment of an Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) that, every eight years would review the costs and benefits of major regulations; an independent commission to analyze the cumulative costs of rules and to identify those needing modification or repeal; enforcing the requirement that regulation benefits justify its costs; a requirement that, in advance, Congress would have to approve regulations with an annual effect of more than $100 million.[7]

     HOV lanes, along with innumerable costly government mandated rules and regulations, need to be done away with. There are a number of ways to accomplish this task. But first, we need a United States Congress that will take on the task and put aside the political wrangling and pontificating so prominent in Washington these past years. America deserves better that it is currently receiving. We cannot afford to continue drowning in an ever-growing sea of burdensome rules, laws and regulations.


  1. Outdated and thoughtless traffic planning, David Burton,, Article 7, 1 November 2005.
  2. HOV lanes drive us commuters crazy, Cornelius Chapman, Boston Herald, Page 29, 23 February 2008.
  3. A nation drowning in needless rules and regs, Michael Barone, Boston Herald, Page 15, 3 July 2014.
  4. The Cure for Regulation Destabilization, Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr., Forbes, Page 40, 30 June 2014.
  5. Sunset Provision, The Free Dictionary, Accessed 13 July 2016.
  6. Twenty Years of Non-Stop Regulation, Wayne Crews and Ryan Young, The American Spectator, 5 June 2013.
  7. A lot to like in Bush’s plan to tackle overregulation, Cass R. Sunstein, Boston Herald, Page 13, 26 September 2015.

  21 July 2016 {Article 258; Undecided_48}    
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