There is a new menace on the highway these days. Drivers are falling victim to dangers they never anticipated would become so numerous. These dangers lurk in the managed lanes on the Katy freeway in Houston and they can strike without warning. Beware as you commute lest you fall victim to the Harris County Constable!
One of the reasons I bought a motorcycle (the first being to save gas) was the ability to ride in the HOV lanes on the Katy freeway, thus saving some time on my morning commute. I probably only save maybe ten minutes overall, but it is nice not having the stop and go traffic for the whole trip. Since I have been riding in the lanes, I have noticed a lot more police cars along the route than before. The HOV lane is actually a “managed lane” according to the Harris County toll road authority. This means that during the rush hours, any busses, commuter vans or cars with two or more passengers can drive in the lanes as well as motorcycles, but so can single passenger cars with an EZ Tag to pay a toll. In fact, during non-rush hour times, the EZ tag is required for all vehicles in the lanes. If a single passenger car drives in the lanes without an EZ Tag, it is a fineable offense. There have been a lot of fines issued lately.
I wrote a blog a few weeks ago about the toll roads in Houston and how much of a rip-off they are, but now the county is really going after that revenue. On any given day in either direction, I see at least four cars pulled over at different spots in the managed lanes. All of them single passenger cars with—I can only imagine—no EZ Tag. One afternoon, the managed lanes were backed up as bad as the main lanes were. Five lanes in the main lanes and both managed lanes were at a standstill. This usually happens when there is a wreck in or near the managed lanes as people tend to rubberneck a lot. As I neared the heart of the congestion, I saw several lights flashing—typical of a wreck. It was, however, nothing of the kind. Four Harris County constable cars had each stopped a different car at the same time at the same place. Four drivers getting tickets caused all the traffic to come to a near standstill during rush hour.
There are two toll booths (really they are just monitoring stations, since the tolls are paid by EZ Tag, there is no need to man them) with at least one constable cruiser parked in each direction. Yesterday, I noticed the constable standing on the concrete barricade with a pair of binoculars looking down the road for what I suspect are HOV Violators. This morning, I passed the booth and noticed there were five constable cars parked at the standby waiting to pounce on unsuspecting violators. In both cases, traffic slowed past the point of safety to annoying. Not out of fear of getting pulled over—everyone slows to the speed limit when they notice a police car—but out of fear of hitting the officer who was in a dangerous position, or one of the cruisers that were parked too close to the lane.
I can understand the county trying to make up a budget shortfall by collecting fines. That is understandable and since I am a law-abiding citizen, I have no problem paying for any mistakes I might make. What is most irksome to me is the length to which these officers are going to catch the violators. They are creating unsafe conditions in their zeal to write tickets. Are there not more pressing needs for law enforcement in our community than HOV/EZ Tag violators? I’m not saying to ignore them or give them a free pass, but surely 10 constables lying in wait at rush hour is a bit much.