June 14, 2012

N.C. to allow buses to drive on highway shoulders

North Carolina-based Triangle Transit buses using I-40 in the Research Triangle Park area in Durham County can begin traveling down the road on the highway’s shoulder on July 16 to get past congested traffic.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation and Triangle Transit have created the state’s first "Buses on Shoulders System" (BOSS) program to allow buses to travel on the shoulders of selected highways in times of heavy traffic congestion to help maintain transit schedules and bypass problem areas.

They would only be allowed to use the shoulders when travel speed in the highway lanes fell below 35 miles per hour. Buses are also not allowed to go faster than 15 miles per hour than the traffic they are passing and never go faster than 35 miles per hour when on the shoulder.

The idea is based on a similar program that has been in use in Minnesota for more than 20 years. It is also in place in at least 10 other states, including Virginia and Georgia.

The benefits include shorter and more predictable and reliable transit times, fewer missed connections for bus riders, reduced driver overtime, potential increased ridership and decreased operational costs for the bus service.

Special training for Triangle Transit bus drivers who will be using the shoulders on their routes is under way. The total length of the pilot is approximately 20 shoulder-miles.

The BOSS program will involve four Triangle Transit routes. Only Triangle Transit buses with specially trained drivers will be permitted to travel on the shoulders during periods of congestion during this pilot program. These drivers will have the option, but not the requirement, of operating on the shoulders in congested conditions. Even if traffic is moving slower than 35 mph, it is up to the bus driver to determine if and where to use the shoulder, depending on their judgment of the safety conditions.

The BOSS program is not limited to being in use just during rush hour congestion. It could be activated during major traffic backups associated with weather, accidents or other incidents. However, buses operating on the shoulder have to yield to all other vehicles that may end up on the shoulder in cases of an accident, breakdown or other incident. That having been said, unattended vehicles will be rapidly towed away from shoulders in the pilot area.

Once it is determined the system is successful, it could be expanded to other important commuter bus routes in the area. It could also be expanded to other cities in the state.

The development of BOSS is a project by the I-40 Regional Partnership, an organization whose goal is to improve the mobility along I-40 and related highway routes in the Research Triangle area. Its members include the N.C. Department of Transportation; the Federal Highway Administration; Triangle Transit; the cities of Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Chapel Hill and their related transit authorities; N.C. State and Duke; the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority; Wake, Durham and Orange counties; and area Metropolitan Planning Organizations.

More information on the BOSS program can be found here. Added background on the I-40 Regional Partnership organization can be found here.

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