Texas governor scraps shotgun giveaway after school shooting


Greg Abbott is pictured. | Getty

A spokesman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott , a Republican, said Monday the campaign contest is still active, but the winner will now receive a $250 gift card. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has scrapped plans to give away a “Texas-made shotgun“ after a gunman used a shotgun in a Friday rampage that left 10 dead in a high school near Houston.

A spokesman for Abbott, a Republican, said Monday the campaign contest is still active, but the winner will now receive a $250 gift card.

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The webpage for the contest has been changed from one featuring the governor holding a shotgun to one without any pictures, now advertising the gift card. The change was made over the weekend, the Abbott spokesman said.

Abbott’s reelection campaign launched the shotgun giveaway contest on May 1, prior to the high school murders in Santa Fe, Texas. The contest quickly caught the eyes of Texas gun control activists, who pressed Abbott over the weekend.

“I find this giveaway deeply disturbing for a number of reasons, chiefly among them the fact that Friday’s shooting at Santa Fe HS was carried out with a shotgun,” Jack Kappelman, a student organizer of Austin’s March For Our Lives affiliate, wrote in an email to POLITICO. Kappelman is a senior at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy, a high school in Austin.

The contest also drew the attention of potential gubernatorial challengers, including Andrew White, who is running in the Democratic primary. White posted a picture on Twitter of an Abbott campaign door hanger that advertised the contest with a picture of a shotgun.

“If nominated on May 22, I won’t have to give away shotguns to get people to vote for me. Can you believe this?“ White wrote.

Abbott has promised “swift” action following last week’s school shooting, including a Tuesday roundtable to discuss next steps.



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Cougar kills mountain biker, injures friend

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Russian activity in City of London faces further scrutiny by MPs | Politics

A second select committee of MPs is expected to examine how Russian companies use the City of London after the foreign affairs committee singled out the corporate law firm Linklaters for its role in advising on last year’s flotation of Oleg Deripaska’s En+.

Parliamentary sources indicated that the Treasury select committee would take up the subject as part of its inquiry into economic crime and that Linklaters could again be asked to appear, potentially creating a confrontation with a law firm that has so far refused to give evidence.

Linklaters turned down more than one request to explain its involvement as the principal lawyers in the £5bn flotation of En+ in November 2017, which has become controversial as Anglo-Russian relations have deteriorated and Deripaska was placed on a US economic sanctions list.

The foreign affairs select committee said of Linklaters: “We regret their unwillingness to engage with our inquiry and must leave others to judge whether their work ‘at the forefront of financial, corporate and commercial developments in Russia’ has left them so entwined in the corruption of the Kremlin and its supporters that they are no longer able to meet the standards expected of a UK-regulated law firm.”

Linklaters did not explain why it had not wanted to give evidence but released a statement saying it was “surprised and concerned at the passing criticism” contained in the MPs’ report. “We reject any suggestion based solely on the fact that we – like dozens of other international firms – operate in a particular market that our services may somehow involve the firm in corruption, state-related or otherwise.”

Linklaters shared $35m (£25m) in fees from the lucrative float with US law firm White & Case as well as Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and JP Morgan. Typically, lawyers tend to share about half of the total pot of fees.

Senior backbench MPs are coordinating their inquiries into Russia and have set up a steering group designed to ensure that select committees do not overlap. It is chaired by Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the foreign affairs committee, and includes Nicky Morgan’s Treasury committee, as well as the digital, culture, media and sport committee which is inquiring into fake news.

The foreign affairs committee complained that the successful listing of En+ and sales of Russian sovereign debt in London sent out a mixed message that was “encouraging President Putin and his associates” to conclude that their money “is safe and welcome in London”. But shares in the company tumbled after the US placed Deripaska on a sanctions blacklist in April.

En+, which owns a controlling stake in the aluminium firm Rusal, is chaired by the former Conservative energy minister Greg Barker, who is trying to get US sanctions removed from the company. On Friday, Deripaska announced he would resign from the board as part of Lord Barker’s plan, which would see him reduce his shareholding below 50% in return for the removal of sanctions.

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Denver Broncos golf outing precedes start of OTAs

Before the Broncos start organized team activities on Tuesday, coach Vance Joseph ordered up a golf outing for the second consecutive year.

The Broncos were scheduled to play nine holes on Monday to serve as equal parts a bonding experience and something-out-of-the-normal-routine exercise.

“Phase 1 and Phase 2 has been a good grind for us,” Joseph said last week. “We’ve worked and I think it’s time to have some team-building before we go to OTAs. Most of the guys go out, have lunch, check out the views and relax. Nobody is talking football.

“Golf is a sport that some of the guys play and some don’t. It’s fun to watch the guys who have never played before swing the club.”

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Steven Mnuchin urges DOJ to review the power of Google, other massive tech firms

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin on Monday encouraged the Department of Justice to review the power that America’s massive tech firms, such as Google, have over the U.S. economy.

His remarks came in reaction to a “60 Minutes” TV segment Sunday night exploring antitrust questions raised by Google’s online search monopoly and the possible harm it poses to market competition.

“These issues deserve to be reviewed carefully,” Mr. Mnuchin told CNBC on Monday when asked about the “60 Minutes” report. “These are issues the Justice Department needs to look at seriously, not for any one company, but as these technology companies have a greater and greater impact on the economy.”

Recent months have seen increased public concern over the power of America’s Silicon Valley-based tech giants. In April, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg bowed to months of pressure to appear before Congress and provide testimony over his firm’s data security policies and also its past failures to stop online propaganda.

Sunday’s “60 Minutes” story scrutinized long-running claims that Google is a monopoly and stifles competition. The report unearthed no new allegations, but it revisited critics who claim the search engine giant abuses its marketplace dominance.

It also highlighted how Google’s rivals are encouraging Washington to adopt Europe’s antitrust approach to the firm.

Last year, the European Union’s Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager fined Google $2.7 billion for promoting its shopping service over its competitors. It was the largest fine ever imposed by the EU in an antitrust case.

On Monday, Mr. Mnuchin said that “issues of monopolies are out of my lane,” but added that it is up to the Justice Department to review antitrust violations.

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RNC paid half a million to law firm representing Hope Hicks in Russia probe

The Republican National Committee has paid nearly half a million dollars to a law firm representing former White House communications director Hope Hicks in the ongoing Russia investigation, Federal Election Commission records show.

The two payments in April, totaling $451,779, were made to Trout Cacheris & Janis for “legal and compliance services.” Hicks is represented by the firm’s founder, Robert Trout. Two additional attorneys at the firm represent other witnesses in the Russia probe. The firm has also represented Bijan Kian, the one-time business partner of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

In late February, Hicks appeared before the House Intelligence Committee for a closed-door interview related to Russia interference in the 2016 election but refused to answer questions about her time in the White House, according to Republicans and Democrats on the panel.

One of the few White House staffers who was at Trump’s side since the early days of his campaign, Hicks faced questions about the campaign, transition and first year of the administration — including her role in the public statement issued by Donald Trump Jr. in July 2017 in response to a New York Times report last year about Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner‘s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.

Hicks has also been interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s team over a two day period.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump shakes hands with Communications Director Hope Hicks on her last day of work at the White House before he departs, March 29, 2018, in Washington.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
President Donald Trump shakes hands with Communications Director Hope Hicks on her last day of work at the White House before he departs, March 29, 2018, in Washington.

The RNC did not respond to a request for comment about whether the payments were for Hicks’ legal fees. Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout declined to comment to ABC News. It’s not clear whether the payments were for Hicks’ legal fees, the other witnesses represented by the firm, or for other matters. Trout Cacheris & Janis did not respond to a request for comment about the payments.

The payments show a continuation of the growing legal fees that the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee are paying.

“Legal fees are typically a small percentage of the overall cost of running a presidential campaign – usually around 5 percent of all the expenditures in the election cycle in which the election takes place,” said Brett Kappel, a veteran federal election lawyer.

The Trump campaign has spent nearly $228,000 to cover some of the legal expenses for President Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, sources familiar with the payments told ABC News raising questions about whether the Trump campaign may have violated campaign finance laws.

Federal Election Commission records show three payments made from the Trump campaign to a firm representing Cohen beginning in 2017. The “legal consulting” payments were made to McDermott Will and Emery — a law firm where Cohen’s attorney Stephen Ryan is a partner — between October 2017 and January 2018.

PHOTO: Logo of the Republican National Committee, featuring an elephant, the traditional mascot of the party.Getty Images
Logo of the Republican National Committee, featuring an elephant, the traditional mascot of the party.

It was those three payments, sources tell ABC News, that were related to Cohen’s legal defense.

The Trump campaign spent more than $830,000 on legal consulting during the first three months of 2018, including one payment to the firm representing Cohen, according to FEC reports. The payments made up more than 20 percent of the total campaign expenditures.

In 2017, the Trump campaign also paid legal fees to the attorneys representing top aides — and family members — tangled in the ongoing Russia probes.

The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee paid $514,000 in legal fees for Donald Trump Jr. in 2017 and in January 2018, the Trump campaign paid more than $66,000 to the law firm representing former Trump bodyguard Keith Schiller, who has been a fixture at Trump’s side for decades and served as Trump’s director of Oval Office operations until September.

The Patriot Legal Defense Fund was established earlier this year to help former Trump campaign staffers and Trump administration officials pay for legal bills associated with the ongoing Russia probes.

It is unclear, however, who has benefited from the fund as it does not disclose its beneficiaries. It’s also not clear now much money the fund currently has.

Trump and his immediate family members are excluded from receiving money from the fund, and a source close to Michael Flynn told ABC News in February that he would not accept support from the fund.

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Same grief, different outcomes: Texas mulls school safety

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – Mourners knelt before white wooden crosses on Monday outside the Texas high school where 10 people were killed in the fourth deadly U.S. school shooting this year, an image recalling similar gatherings following February’s Florida school massacre.

A crowd of a few dozen people, including student survivors of the attack, family members, chaplains and police gathered outside the school to observe a 10 a.m. CT (1500 GMT) moment of silence called for by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

In contrast to Florida, where the deaths of 17 teens and educators sparked a youth-led movement calling for new restrictions on gun ownership, the Texas tragedy saw elected officials and survivors alike voicing support for gun rights.

Abbott, who noted that the 17-year-old accused of the attack appeared to used weapons legally owned by his father in the Friday attack at Santa Fe High School, was due to begin a series of roundtable meetings with parents, educators and other officials on improving school safety.

“We need to do more than just pray for the victims and the families,” Abbott said on Friday at the school outside Houston following the attack. He said any legal changes considered would “protect Second Amendment rights.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution enshrines the right to bear arms. Gun rights proponents say that language prohibits regulations on gun ownership and argue that enforcement of existing laws should be sufficient to stop violence like the scenes that played out in Santa Fe.

Gun control groups point to the regular toll of shootings across the United States as evidence that more needs to be done to rein in the proliferation of weapons.

Abbott spokesman Stephen Chang said the governor was finalizing plans for the roundtables, including the dates and participants.

Mike Collier, a Democrat running for Texas lieutenant governor, expressed skepticism that the discussions would lead to significant change.

“All I hear is talk. Talk is cheap,” Collier said on Twitter. “What we need is action.”

Police arrested Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, at the Santa Fe school following the rampage that they said he carried out with a shotgun and .38-caliber pistol. He has been charged with murder.

Two teachers and eight students, including Pakistani exchange student Sabika Sheikh, 17, were killed in the attack, police said.

A chaplain carries a cross bearing the name of a victim killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., May 21, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Her father, Aziz Sheikh, said on Monday he hoped the death of his daughter, who wanted to serve her country as a civil servant or diplomat, would spur gun control in the United States.

“Sabika’s case should become an example to change the gun laws,” Sheikh said in a phone interview from the family home in Karachi.

SHOTGUN GIVEAWAY

Abbott’s campaign website on Monday dropped a contest which gave donors a chance to win a shotgun, one of the types of weapons used in Friday’s attack, the Houston Chronicle reported.

That had drawn criticism from Texas gun-control advocates, including the organizers of the Houston March for Our Lives, the national protests that followed the Florida shooting.

“Abbott’s decision to continue the raffle was disrespectful to the Santa Fe community,” the group said on Twitter. “We are glad he has chosen to modify the giveaway.”

The Abbott spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the campaign contest.

Classmates at the high school described Pagourtzis as a quiet loner who played on the football team. The attacker wore a black trench coat to school even in the Texas heat on Friday.

Police said Pagourtzis confessed to Friday’s killings after he was taken into custody but authorities have offered no motive yet for the massacre.

Pagourtzis’ family said in a statement it was “saddened and dismayed” by the shooting and “as shocked as anyone else” by the events.

Slideshow (18 Images)

February’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, prompted a March law creating a $67 million statewide fund to train teachers to carry weapons in the classroom. Parkland itself rejected its share of that funding.

In Santa Fe, some students were more interested in that idea, with 18-year-old Kassidy Monroe saying, “In some cases arming teachers may help.”

Reporting by Liz Hampton in Santa Fe, Texas, Saad Sayeed in Islamabad and Gina Cherelus in New York; Writing by Rich McKay and Scott Malone; Editing by Bill Trott and Cynthia Osterman

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Wounded Texas officer had sought a ‘simpler life’ patrolling schools

The immediate rush by the two school officers to confront the suspect offered a sharp contrast to how a Florida sheriff’s deputy responded to gunshots at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School – by remaining outside the building where students had been killed.

Officer John Barnes confronted the shooter and was shot in the elbow.

Officer John Barnes confronted the shooter and was shot in the elbow.

Photo: Supplied

The former Broward County deputy, Scot Peterson, was criticised for taking cover behind a wall and not heading inside to confront the gunman during the deadly six-minute rampage on February 14.

Still, many details about the law-enforcement response in Santa Fe remain hazy. The Galveston County sheriff, Henry Trochesset, told CNN on Sunday that officers engaged in a 25-minute firefight with the gunman.

It is unclear exactly what happened during that time, exactly how he suspect surrendered or whether any students were struck by crossfire. Trochesset said that authorities were still waiting on autopsy results.

Of the 13 people wounded in the deadly shooting on Friday, Barnes, 49, may now face the hardest, most tenuous path. He was still in critical condition Sunday at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and he was being heavily sedated, Hatchett said.

Barnes lost huge amounts of blood after the shotgun blast shredded his right elbow. His heart stopped twice, Hatchett said – once while he was being evacuated by helicopter to the hospital, and again on the operating table. His kidney function was still “in peril”, and doctors do not yet know how his arm will be affected, Hatchett said.

Lucrecia Martinez, 7, and her brother Luciano, 9, of Dickinson light candles during a vigil held for Santa Fe High School victims.

Lucrecia Martinez, 7, and her brother Luciano, 9, of Dickinson light candles during a vigil held for Santa Fe High School victims.

Photo: AP

“He is by no means completely out of the woods,” he said.

For a while on Saturday, the doctors eased back on the sedation, allowing Barnes to open his eyes from his hospital bed, hold his wife’s hand and listen to his family tell him that they loved him.

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“Everybody said, ‘You’re a real hero, John – we’re so proud of what you’ve been doing,'” Hatchett said. “We told him we’re going to be here with you.”

Since he was 10, John Barnes had wanted to be a cop, Hatchett said. In old photos that the family has been flipping through lately, he can be seen holding a BB gun with a law enforcement officer’s posture and authority.

His mother worried about what could happen to him and tried to dissuade him from a police career, Hatchett said, “but he never wavered.”

He worked as a corrections officer in Tarrant County, which includes Fort Worth, until a spot opened up at the police academy in Houston in 1994. He struck other cadets there as friendly and engaging, introducing himself so often as “John Barnes from Tarrant County” that they nicknamed him Tarrant County.

He was interested in the intricacies of police work and asked instructors question after question, to the point that his questions ate into the cadets’ break time, according to a friend, Captain Jim Dale of the Houston Police Department.

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Among his assignments on the Houston force were investigations of sex crimes, and he once pulled a man from a burning car, family and friends said. He retired from the force in January and began working in the Santa Fe schools, where his wife, Ashley, is an assistant principal at Roy J. Wollam Elementary.

He told Dale he was seeking a “simpler life,” one in which he would work closer to home and have summers free with his wife, 10-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son.

Even so, his stepfather said, Barnes recognised the stress and complexities of working in a school of 1400 students, and had trained with other officers for the possibility of a school shooting.

The force that covers the Santa Fe schools has seven officers – including a chief and assistant chief – as well as a dispatcher and auxiliary officers, according to its website. The school district’s police chief did not return a phone message seeking comment.

“They had an anti-shooter plan that they’d been working on,” Hatchett said. “John had extensive practice at the firing range to make sure his skills were up to snuff.”

Officer John Barnes.

Officer John Barnes.

His family now takes turns staying beside Barnes’ bed – all except his wife, who has been there constantly since she heard the news that a Santa Fe school officer had been shot. Amid phone calls and plaudits from the governor, other political figures and higher-ups in law enforcement, Ashley Barnes told her husband’s friend, Dale, that she did not see what the big deal was about what he had done Friday.

“John’s a hero all the time,” she told him.

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“Meg the Budtender” takes lead on new Colorado marijuana education campaign – The Denver Post

Colorado’s cannabis education campaigns are advancing beyond Legal Marijuana 101.

“Responsibility Grows Here,” the new public education push unveiled Monday by the state health department, will include four targeted campaigns addressing consumers, youth, trusted adults, and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

“We’ve worked hard over the past four years to educate Coloradans on the basic laws, responsibilities and health effects of marijuana use,” Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment chief Dr. Larry Wolk said in a statement. “With these new campaigns, we’re focusing on those most affected by marijuana use to make sure they obey the laws, stay safe and become positive role models for Colorado youth.”

The new campaign launched with TV, radio and online ads, social media and a website pitching to adult residents and tourists who consume marijuana, and to people between that ages of 12 and 20. In mid-June, the campaign will kick off education efforts for trusted adults and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

The ads for adults and tourists feature a fictional spokeswoman, “Meg the Budtender,” who addresses questions around storage, consumption and edibles.

The latest campaign keeps with the friendlier, folksier tone of the recent “Good to Know” campaign, which was regarded as a success, according to a study released in January.

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I-25 toll lane proposal between Castle Rock and Monument might ease traffic jams, but it’s enflaming anti-tax passions – The Denver Post

COLORADO SPRINGS — Asking people to pay each time they use highway lanes isn’t an easy sell, particularly in tax-averse El Paso County, where a proposal to install toll lanes along an often-congested stretch of I-25 is going over like a lead balloon.

“That’s just taxing people for no reason,” said Craig Sawall, one in a parade of residents who criticized the idea to loud applause during a public meeting in Colorado Springs last week. “And that’s just wrong.”

But the toll lanes that the Colorado Department of Transportation has in mind, in which drivers are charged a rate that fluctuates with traffic volume or time of day, have dramatically reduced travel times for motorists elsewhere in the state, the agency says. Managed toll lanes, as they’re called, have been put into operation for the I-70 Mountain Express Lane, U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder and a segment of I-25 north of downtown Denver.

CDOT said time savings for drivers on the three segments of highway, across both the toll lane and the existing free lanes, have averaged 20 to 50 percent per trip.

Meg Collins, who drives daily from her home in north Boulder to her job in downtown Denver, said the toll lane on U.S. 36 saves her 20 minutes over her commute when there were only two general-purpose lanes in each direction. She said using the managed lane costs her about $10 a day.

“It absolutely makes my commute to Denver bearable,” she said. “I hate sitting in traffic. I choose to spend those dollars to ease my aggravation.”

Traveling the 13 miles along I-70 between Idaho Springs to Georgetown at peak drive times during the ski season used to take 35 minutes, said David Spector, director of the Colorado High Performance Transportation Enterprise, a division of CDOT and the state’s tolling authority. With the shoulder express lane, which opened in 2015, that stretch can now be traversed in just over 10 minutes, he said.

CDOT’s proposal in El Paso and Douglas counties calls for managed toll lanes, also called express toll lanes, along an 18-mile segment of the interstate between Castle Rock and Monument — known as the I-25 Gap.

Construction on the $350 million project could begin as soon as this summer and finish up in three years.

“Why are they taxing us again?”

For many residents in El Paso County, resistance to tolls is grounded as much in philosophy and politics as it is in financial or time-saving considerations. Shawn Brennan, who has driven toll roads in New Jersey, Virginia and California, said at last week’s public meeting that “toll roads are so against the Colorado ethos.”

El Paso County is well known for its Republican, anti-tax leanings, and that bore out late last year when the county commissioners unanimously passed an emergency resolution putting on record their opposition to toll lanes in the I-25 Gap.

At Wednesday’s meeting, several speakers pointed to the nearly $25 million in taxes voters in the county passed in November to fund improvements to I-25 — $14.5 million in a county tax measure and $10 million from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority. Commissioner candidate Vickie Tonkins, with a raised voice, criticized CDOT staff for its proposal.

“Every constituent has asked me, ‘Why are they taxing us again?’” she said. “This is another way to get tax dollars out of us.”

She and others in the room suggested that CDOT build a third — or even a fourth — general purpose lane in each direction of the Gap, which they contend would take care of the increasing congestion and accident problems on the winding ribbon of asphalt connecting Douglas and El Paso counties.

According to CDOT data, as many as 68,000 vehicles used the stretch of road daily in 2015 and delays of at least 40 percent over what normal travel time should be are common. CDOT says traffic flow in the Gap is mostly impeded by traffic accidents, which numbered more than 5,500 between 2011 and 2015. During that period, nearly 1,300 people were injured and 13 were killed on the road.

The most prominent casualties were the deaths of two state troopers, who were struck and killed by passing motorists as they tended to roadside emergencies.

But proponents of managed lanes say simply building more free lanes won’t help in the long run. HPTE’s Spector points to the concept of “induced demand,” the economic precept that says as new lanes are added, motorists will avail themselves of that additional capacity.

“If you just add free capacity, it will get filled,” he said.

Spector points to the $800 million T-REX expansion of I-25 more than a decade ago, where general purpose lanes were added to ease frequent backups and traffic jams in the narrow section of interstate south of downtown Denver.

“When it first opened, it was great,” Spector said. “And now it’s a parking lot.”

CDOT, he said, uses a concept called dynamic pricing in its toll lanes so that the cost to ride the lane can be adjusted depending on what the traffic volume is. If traffic starts getting too heavy in the managed lane, the price can be boosted to discourage more motorists from entering the lane.

Spector said CDOT is contractually obligated to keep the express lane traffic running at a speed of at least 50 mph on U.S. 36 and 55 mph on I-25 so that Regional Transportation District buses and high-occupancy vehicles carrying at least three people, which can use the lanes for free, aren’t slowed.

Most importantly, he said, with managed lanes no one is forced to pay to use the road. Those who desire reliable travel times can pay to use the managed lane while those more concerned about cost can remain in the general purpose lanes.

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