HOV direct access ramps


What are direct access ramps?

Direct access ramps allow buses, carpools, vanpools, and motorcycles to directly access the high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes in the center of the freeway. They come down from above the mainline, or up from below, and merge into the HOV lane from inside the median.

A simulation of the Kingsgate P&R direct access ramps.
Aerial view of HOV direct access ramps serving the Eastgate Park-and-Ride.

Why are we building direct access ramps?

Direct access ramps improve safety, reduce congestion, save time, and increase travel time reliability for both HOVs and general purpose freeway traffic. High occupancy vehicles can have a hard time merging left through general purpose lanes to gain access to the HOV lane during congested periods, creating a safety problem for all freeway users. When buses, particularly articulated (extra-long) buses attempt this merge, they can cause congestion in the lanes they pass through for quite a distance back. By enabling carpools, vanpools, buses, and motorcycles to connect directly with HOV lanes, these vehicles avoid the need to weave across the other lanes of traffic.

How do direct access ramps work?

Direct access ramps work much like other left-side on- and off-freeway ramps, except they are restricted to HOVs. Vehicles access the ramps from an adjacent park-and-ride facility or surface street. They merge into the left side of the freeway and enter the HOV lane. As with other left-side on- and off-ramps, drivers enter traffic to their right. Visibility is limited so ramp users need to use extra caution when merging into a freeway HOV lane from a direct access ramp.

When using a direct access ramp to exit the freeway, HOV drivers should watch for signs and then exit to the left where indicated. This takes them up (or down) the direct access ramp and into a park-and-ride lot or to an intersection with a local street.

Direct access ramps are open only to carpools, vanpools, buses and motorcycles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is true even when HOV lanes are open to all traffic. For example, Eastside freeway HOV lanes are open to general purpose traffic 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., but the direct access ramps remain restricted to HOVs during those hours. This restriction stems from an interagency agreement between WSDOT and Sound Transit.

Note that the direct access ramps at Ash Way in north Lynnwood are restricted to buses-only for safety reasons.

Who can use direct access ramps?

Nine of the ten direct access ramps currently operating are open to vehicles carrying two or more people. Generally, they are subject to the same eligibility and usage limitations that apply to HOV lanes; however, direct access ramps remain HOV-only, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Although some Eastside freeway HOV lanes are open to all traffic at night, direct access ramps are still restricted to HOVs at all times.

Carpools, vanpools, buses, single-occupant motorcycles and emergency vehicles are permitted on direct access ramps. Trucks that weigh more than 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight are prohibited, regardless of the number of occupants. Buses and recreational vehicles are exempt from this weight limit.

One location is open to buses only: Ash Way. This restriction relates to safety concerns unique to the location.

How do drivers benefit from direct access ramps?

We have been monitoring direct access ramp operations since the first one opened in 2004. The results have been quite positive. Vehicles are merging smoothly and safely from the ramps to the HOV lanes, and HOV users are saving up to 10 minutes per trip.

How much do direct access ramps cost, and where does the funding come from?

The cost of constructing direct access ramps is substantial because they require separate structures above or below the freeway. Sound Transit is providing a large share of funding for many of the direct access projects in the central Puget Sound area. Other transit agencies, cities, the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration, WSDOT and local agencies also contribute funds. Funding partners for each construction site are shown on the project Web pages listed below.