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DORAVILLE: Complaints about Express Lanes lead to change in other states

6:24 PM, Oct 4, 2011   |    comments
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Complaints about Minnesota's first High Occupancy Toll lanes led to changes

ATLANTA, Ga. -- As the Georgia's Tollway Authority gets an earful from frustrated commuters over the I-85 Express Lanes, complaints have led to changes with High Occupancy Toll lanes in at least one other state.

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Since Georgia's first High Occupancy Toll lanes opened on Saturday, commuters have complained that few drivers are using them. Some squawk that it has caused bigger traffic jams in the general lanes. Others say the Express Lanes are confusing, expensive, and don't have enough entry and exit points.

The Department of Transportation and the State Road and Tollway Authority say they will take the next six to eight weeks to crunch data and see if adjustments are needed along I-85.

"I think you need to listen to the public," said Kevin Gutknecht, spokesperson for the Minnesota Department of Transportation. "Ask them what they think."

When Minnesota opened its first High Occupancy Toll lanes in 2005, the state used existing lanes on an 11 mile stretch of Interstate 394 in Minneapolis. Before the tolls, the lanes were used for cars with two vehicles or more during rush hour. Anyone could use them during non-peak traffic hours.

When the tolls were implemented, it was 24-hours a day. Single occupant drivers who had previously had free access to the lanes complained loudly.

"We discovered after three weeks that it didn't work very well," said Gutknecht. "They missed having that general purpose lane, and it caused us congestion problems at different times of the day, like 10 o'clock and lunchtime."

After three weeks, the Minnesota DOT changed the system so that the lanes charged a toll during rush hour, then were opened to anyone free of charge during non-peak hours.

Malika Reed Wilkins, spokesperson for the Georgia Road and Tollway Authority, said it's too early to determine if adjustments need to be made along I-85.

"We will continue to monitor the performance of the lane as we expect a ramp up over the next few months based on traffic patterns in the other cities that have implemented Express Lanes," said Wilkins.

Seattle is in its third year of High Occupancy Toll lanes. A spokesperson for the Washington Department of Transportation said their biggest complaint has been the lack of access into the lanes. The DOT is looking into the possibility of lengthening access areas.

The Washington DOT claims use of the toll lanes doubled in the first two years of the program on Route 167, from 1,000 to 2,000 per day.

A spokesman for the agency that manages High Occupancy Toll Lanes in Houston, Texas, said usage went from an initial count of 354,000 transactions per month to 1.2 million a month. Houston's High Occupancy Toll Lanes opened in 2009, and involve two additional lanes in each direction on a 12 mile stretch of I-10.

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