FORT WORTH — Trucks are being forced out of the left lane on more North Texas highways.Beginning this summer, the Texas Transportation Department plans to nearly double the number of highway miles in Dallas-Fort Worth where vehicles with three or more axles are banned from the left lane.Trucks are already prohibited in the fast lane of Interstates 20, 30 and 45 in the Metroplex. And over several months, state officials plan to expand the ban to include many other freeways, department spokeswoman Michelle Releford said.Among the places where a new left-lane ban is planned: Interstate 35W in Fort Worth from 28th Street to the Tarrant-Johnson county line; Texas 121 “Airport Freeway” from downtown Fort Worth to East Loop 820 near Richland Hills; Loop 820 from Interstate 30 in west Fort Worth to Blue Mound Road; and Texas 360 from Texas 183 to I-20 in Arlington.Requiring big rigs to stay on the right side of the road is extremely popular among motorists.“Trucks have no business in the far left lane,” Richard Kevin Hager of Granbury said. “It’s already working great in the areas that have it, when it is enforced. Not only safer for everybody but definitely improves traffic flow.”Pending approval from the Texas Transportation Commission in July, signs with messages such as “No trucks, left lane” will be installed on the selected roads. The signs will start going up in the Dallas area in late summer, and in the Fort Worth area in the fall, said Andy Oberlander, a traffic engineering supervisor with the department.Once the signs are up, the ban will be in place, and trucks caught in the left lane will be subject to a police citation, Oberlander said.Surveys show that roughly 80 percent of motorists approve of the restriction, state officials say.“No vehicle should be allowed in the far left lane that is not going the maximum speed limit,” Gary Burris of Arlington said.In North Texas, regional transportation officials also say they have some data to show that keeping big rigs out of the left lane reduces accidents, improves overall traffic speeds and reduces auto emissions.Truckers aren’t bad guysBut some truck drivers question the claims about the benefits of such bans.“Our great government has made trucks into bad guys,” said Robert Duncan of Terrell, a trucker for 14 years. Duncan noted that trucks’ speeds can vary greatly, with some traveling no more than 62 mph and others hauling at 75 mph — and he said faster trucks need the ability to “get past the rolling road block” of slower traffic.Texas law does allow trucks to use the left lane temporarily for passing.Banning trucks from the left lane penalizes some of the most professional, experienced drivers on the road, said John Esparza, president of the Austin-based Texas Motor Transportation Association. Instead, he said, Texas would be better served by going after drivers who are inattentive, overly aggressive or impaired by alcohol.Trucks were involved in 13 percent of Texas traffic fatalities last year, Esparza said. But he said that in 84 percent of those cases the driver of a two-axle vehicle, not a trucker, was at fault.Plus, he said, the policy creates congestion on the outside lanes of highways.“If you limit trucks to the right lane, you are putting folks entering the freeway into more jeopardy,” Esparza said.HistoryThe effort to keep 18-wheelers out of the fast lane dates from 2005 in the Metroplex. That’s when the North Central Texas Council of Governments, the regional transportation planning agency, enacted temporary restrictions on portions of I-30 in Fort Worth-Arlington and I-20 in Dallas.During the test period of approximately five months, crashes on I-30 in Tarrant County fell nearly 24 percent, according to the council of governments. With a left-lane ban, wrecks averaged 1.27 wrecks per day, down from 1.67 before.Also on I-30, average speeds for all traffic improved 0.88 mph in the left lane, 0.56 mph in the center lane and 0.50 in the right lane, according to the research.After those results were announced in 2006, the temporary bans were made permanent.In 2009, the state Transportation Commission approved expanding them to include most of I-20, I-30 and I-45 in Dallas-Fort Worth.It’s part of a statewide trend. Such bans have been approved in many cities in recent years. On I-35, for example, one extends from Georgetown all the way through the Austin area.In North Texas, roads that meet certain criteria — for example, roads with at least three main lanes in each direction, but not left-lane exits — are considered candidates for the ban.“Three lanes or more — keep out!” David Benedetto of Grapevine said.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson