State taps engineering college to study interstate HOV lanes

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Mark McDonald, professor of practice in civil engineering in the Raymond B. Jones College of Engineering, was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation to determine the current effectiveness and benefits of the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstates 24 and 65 throughout the state.

This is the first pure research grant from an external agency awarded to the engineering college since its inception.

According to McDonald’s research proposal, there is a perception among the general public that the I-24 and I-65 HOV lanes, which are reserved for passengers carrying multiple people in an effort to promote ride-sharing and to reduce traffic congestion, have high violation rates, and that law enforcement have limited resources to enforce the HOV restrictions. “State officials have estimated that current violation rates in these lanes are as high as 85 to 90 percent in the a.m. and p.m. rush hours,” state his proposal.

As TDOT considers implementation of revised policies and potentially more aggressive enforcement recommendations for HOV lanes, the department needs to understand how these policies and various methods of enforcement will impact the travelling public and the environment.

In order to provide better guidance for policy and enforcement goals, McDonald’s study will analytically model the highway system and survey public attitudes about HOV lanes, current regulation and enforcement in general. The modeling will contribute to the understanding of how carpool demand will shift as a result of enhanced enforcement. Air quality models will determine the impacts of enhanced enforcement, and traffic simulation models will validate the results. 

Working on this project will be several engineering students as well as Todd Lynn, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; Samuel Wright, engineering laboratory manager, and Justin Myrick, engineering college dean, as well as faculty from the Department of Psychology, Counseling and Family Science in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, Paul Turner, professor, and Jake Morris, director of graduate counseling.