Utah House passes HOV limits, ‘In God We Trust’ license plates
Transportation • Popular clean-fuel cars are threatening to crowd carpool lanes.
Published: February 4, 2013 01:57PM
Updated: February 4, 2013 08:19PM

Drivers of clean-fuel vehicles, enjoy freeway carpool lanes while you can. The Utah House took another step Monday toward limiting such access in the future.

The House also passed two other transportation bills on Monday — one to allow issuing a new “In God We Trust” license plate, and another to allow drivers at some unusual new interchanges to turn either right or left on red lights.

The House voted 51-23 to pass HB23 to allow the Utah Department of Transportation to limit how many clean-fuel vehicles it allows in carpool lanes. Currently if owners pay $10 for a decal, they may use those lanes even if the driver is the only passenger. That was allowed years ago to encourage more clean-fuel cars.

But the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, said so many people are now buying clean-fuel vehicles that they threaten to overcrowd the carpool lanes. He said the state has issued 4,600 decals and adds 80 a month.

He notes that if the average speed in the lanes ever falls below 45 mph per hour — which is possible with too much crowding — the state will face federal sanctions.

“This helps maintain the integrity of the HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes for purpose for which they were built,” Handy said. Those lanes also allow access to single-passenger cars that use transponders to pay tolls, which vary according to how crowded the lanes are.

The House also voted 64-9 to pass HB34 to allow selling the “In God We Trust” license plate.

The idea for the plates came from 11-year-old Tate Christensen of Salt Lake City. He has collected license plates from all 50 states, and did research showing that 12 states offer specialty plates with the “In God We Trust” motto — but not Utah.

The plates would be available for an extra $25 fee. Proceeds of that extra fee would go to groups that hold July 4 celebrations, with at least 20 events, that honor family and God. Some lawmakers previously complained that only America’s Freedom Festival in Provo would likely qualify for the funds.

The House also voted 72-1 to pass HB272 to allow some drivers at new “diverging diamond” freeway interchanges to turn right or left on red lights, if the traffic is clear. The unique design of those interchanges has some drivers at traffic signals finding one-way traffic both to their right and left.

Their unusual design eliminates left-turn signals by having traffic that would normally travel on the right-hand side of the road cross temporarily over to the left as it passes over or under another highway, and then it crosses back. From above, the traffic design looks like a helix.

Laws currently clearly allow turning right on a red light. The bill would also allow turning left into one-way traffic at such intersections, if signage there allows it. UDOT officials say that may especially help current backing at a “diverging diamond” interchange at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi.

All bills now go to the Senate.