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New toll lane on I-85? Georgia DOT wants to know if you want it

3:14 AM, Mar 22, 2013   |    comments
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Video: DOT propoal would extend HOT lanes on I-85

People look at Georgia DOT's plans for an additional lane on I-85 that would become a toll lane, in Gwinnett County, Thursday, March 21, 2013.

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga. -- They were the lanes that started it all in Georgia -- the so-called HOT lanes on I-85 in DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties.

The "High Occupancy Toll" lanes were created to ease traffic congestion on a pay-per-use basis. The Georgia DOT converted existing lanes into the toll lanes. And now there are plans for more toll lanes, on three Metro Atlanta interstates, but with a major difference.

On I-85 in Gwinnett County, for example, the Georgia DOT wants to extend the toll lanes for 10 miles, between Old Peachtree Road and Hamilton Mill Road. But the ten-mile extension would consist of a new lane in each direction, and that additional lane would serve as the toll lane on that stretch of I-85. This time the DOT will not convert an existing lane into a toll lane.

According to Jill Goldberg of Georgia DOT, "This is going to be brand new build. It will be a lane in each direction, not reversible or anything like that. It'll be a new build, new capacity. Just offering a choice for motorists."

The public got their first look at the plans for the new HOT lanes on Thursday, at an "open house" hosted by the DOT at the Gwinnett Center.

The project's construction will cost the DOT an estimated $95 Million.

Once the toll lanes open, Goldberg said, the tolls will pay for maintenance and operations.

People at the open house were able to speak face to face with DOT staffers about the plans.

Some motorists supported the plan and some were opposed.

Motorist Daniel Teran thinks the HOT lanes are a good idea. "Looking at the way traffic is right now, I think it's a good idea to have them for the people who live up there."

Tom Greenlee of Winder thinks the plans are a bad idea.

"I don't understand why they feel the need to have to make people pay to use that [new] lane," he said. "Why couldn't the state just install the lane, then we've got the extra lane? Why the need to charge people to use it?"

The DOT's answer -- one more free lane would simply fill up with congestion like the other free lanes; so charging people reduces the number of drivers who use the lane, in order to keep traffic in that one lane moving even during rush hour.

"I think it's visionary, it's a great use of revenue," said Jan Moore of Braselton.

The sooner the new toll lane opens, she said, the better.

"Absolutely. Because the traffic is horrendous today. You don't have to use it all the time and use it every day, by any means. But if you're running late to pick up your kid from soccer, and traffic's really bad, and you need to get there, and you want to pay that $1.25, I think most folks can afford to do that."

Opponents point out that sometimes, during the worst rush hours, the toll can climb to as high as $5.00 to $6.00, and they say many people cannot afford even a couple of dollars at a time.  And they say it doesn't do anything to reduce congestion in the free lanes.

DOT held the open house between 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. during the peak of rush hour traffic. Officials from the DOT said that time of day has worked best for the public in the past.

Construction of the new, proposed HOT lanes is set to start in 2015 and they are projected to open as early as 2017.

There will be another open house on Thursday, March 28, at the Braselton Police Station community room from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

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