MA Officials to Reinstate I-93 HOV Lane

CLF threatened to sue after the lane was opened to all traffic

Traffic on I-93 heading into Boston. Photo: A.Ruiz /

November 18, 2020 (BOSTON, MA) – After Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) threatened a lawsuit, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation has committed to reinstating the I-93 high occupancy vehicle lane (HOV) north of Boston this month, as well as a host of other transit improvements for bus riders and commuters.

“Now is the time to improve transit options and avoid the gridlock that plagued our region before the pandemic,” said Staci Rubin, Senior Attorney at CLF. “Reinstating the HOV lane and committing to pilot bus lanes on both I-93 and the Tobin Bridge will drastically improve commute times and protect the health of overburdened communities like Chelsea and Somerville. By law, Massachusetts must prioritize bus riders and carpoolers on I-93 to address climate change, pollution, and congestion, and this settlement will hold our leaders accountable.”

The HOV lane is a required component of CLF’s settlement with the state regarding mitigation from Big Dig emissions, and removing it violates the Clean Air Act and state law. Officials eliminated protections for buses and high-occupancy vehicles in 2019 and are making the right decision now to reinstate these protections on November 23, 2020.

In addition to re-instating the HOV lane, transportation officials also agreed to the following in a settlement with CLF:

  • A pilot bus-only lane beginning in the southbound direction on the Tobin Bridge with the aim to implement permanent bus priority on the bridge.
  • A pilot allowing buses traveling on I-93 between Woburn and Somerville to use the right-hand shoulder, effectively creating a bus-only lane.
  • A study of future locations within the I-495 area for bus lanes, HOV lanes, and roadway pricing, with input from environmental justice communities.
  • Maintaining HOV lanes and only making changes to those lanes following the legally required process that includes seeking public input.

“This settlement represents a significant victory for our communities,” said Maria Belen Power, Associate Executive Director of GreenRoots in Chelsea. “We are particularly thrilled by MassDOT’s commitment to invest in a bus lane pilot on the Tobin Bridge. We expect the pilot to last at least one year followed by a permanent lane. We know it will be successful! Coupled with other bus lanes in the region such as the one recently implemented in Chelsea, we know it will significantly improve public transit, in particular those who depend on the 111. We applaud the Conservation Law Foundation and their tireless work towards protecting our public health and quality of life.” 

“Reinstating the HOV lane should help to reduce traffic-related air pollution in Somerville,” said Ellin Reisner, President of Somerville Transportation Equity Partnership. “We will continue the work to reduce noise impacts related to highway operations in our community.”  

“MassDOT’s decision to eliminate HOV and bus priority in 2019 was a mistake, but this settlement and the reinstatement of the lane can be a turning point for better transportation,” said Chris Dempsey, Director of Transportation for Massachusetts. “By advancing a plan to convert existing lanes into managed-lanes, Governor Baker has the opportunity to address our worst-in-the-nation traffic congestion with innovative, cost-effective tools instead of expensive and ineffective 1950’s proposals like expanding highways.”

Experts are available for further comment.