If this was on The Onion, I’d laugh. But it’s on the AJC.
Next summer, commuting will change for thousands of I-85 drivers in Gwinnett County.
For the first time in Georgia, an interstate lane will have a toll, and the computerized price will change moment by moment, rising when congestion in the main lanes rises.
It’s good news if you’re a solo driver willing to pay to get to an appointment a little faster.
But it’s bad news if you’re in a two-person car pool used to a free HOV lane, because you’ll be paying a toll, too.
In a couple of weeks, state Department of Transportation contractors intend to start closing parts of I-85 to construct an electronic toll in the HOV lane. The toll is to run from just south of Spaghetti Junction in DeKalb County to Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County.
If state officials have their way, it’s the first leg of a metrowide network of such lanes.
It is a huge innovation in transportation, one of just a handful of such projects nationwide. On the flip side of that coin, it’s an experiment. State officials readily admit they don’t know if it will work. And can drivers figure it out? The AJC got a look at the freshly designed road signs. Some of them may hinder more than help, judging by the reaction of drivers interviewed this week.
On Wednesday and Thursday, the DOT is holding events to launch the lane’s construction. A public meeting is from 4 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Gwinnett Center.
HOV toll lanes — now called “express lanes” — have advocates. They marvel that even in metro Atlanta, even at rush hour, a driver who is willing to pay will be able to find free-flowing highway traffic.
“I think that’s pretty cool,” said Darryl Harden, a Norcross plumber who drives a lot for his work. “If I can get in that — hey, I’ll go for it.”
And the concept has detractors.
“The taxpayers have already paid for this” HOV lane, said Sabrina Smith, chairwoman of Gwinnett Citizens for Responsible Government. She was concerned that more tax dollars are being invested simply to force out taxpaying two-person car pools. “That’s what’s frustrating for people who play by the rules and try to do the right thing.”
Others note that the reliable traffic flow relies on keeping out people who can’t afford the toll.
Express lane drivers tend to have higher incomes than average, but advocates say the lanes are valuable for working-class parents late to pick up a child from day care.
The lanes may or may not make money. A traffic and revenue study done for the state predicts the lanes may bring in from $3 million to $7 million the first year, and several times more in years after that. But officials say the point is to create one place on the highways where rush-hour traffic is reliably mobile.
There are no reliable examples to show what exactly the effect on the regular lanes will be, experts at a conference here said earlier this year. On the one hand, the toll lane might move more cars, if the toll lane moves faster than the HOV lane. On the other hand, whenever government builds a new road project, people make trips they’ve been putting off, adding to the traffic.
One undeniable fact: Traffic on I-85 needs help.
The state says it’s on the way.
Invest money in expanding MARTA, thereby increasing ridership, lowering fares, and eliminating traffic?… Hell no!
Punish people who carpool by making them pay a toll to ride in the HOV lane, thereby causing more people to drive alone and therefore create more traffic?… Hell yes!
Face, meet desk.