HOT lanes on Ga. 400?
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
By Ariel Hart
March 14, 2012
The Georgia Department of Transportation is holding three public meetings in Fulton and Forsyth counties this month to explain the idea and gauge public opinion. The state is planning a network of optional toll lanes across metro Atlanta's interstates, and Ga. 400 north of the Perimeter is a prime target.
If approved, they would take several years to implement on Ga. 400, and would likely come well after projects on I-75 in Henry County and on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties.
Like the HOT lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett County, the lanes on Ga. 400 would be tolled electronically. The toll price would rise and fall along with congestion in the main lanes, always aiming to stay high enough to thin out toll lane traffic so it's free-flowing. They might or might not allow three-person car pools to ride free.
Although state officials say public opinion will influence what is built, there is no public vote on the decision. But officials are making their case all the same -- a tough job, judging by comments at the first meeting, which was Tuesday night at a school in Roswell.
A comment board for attendees blistered with protest. "NO TOLLS," someone scrawled in 3-inch-high orange letters. Others wrote that it was "another dumb idea" and "self-defeating."
They said the same in interviews. "Judging by the, shall we say, phenomenal success of I-85," scoffed Alpharetta retiree Alexander Williamson, "I think that needs a rethought."
The Ga. 400 meetings are part of a feasibility study slated to cost up to $2.8 million, according to DOT spokeswoman Jill Goldberg. Unlike the I-85 HOT lane, which converted the free HOV lane into a pay lane, the Ga. 400 project could add a new lane. That also would make it much more expensive than the I-85 lane, which cost about $50 million or $60 million to implement. Such lanes generally don't recoup all their costs in toll revenue.
DOT has worked for years on adding optional toll lanes alongside Ga. 400 north of I-285. The state in 2008 canceled a privately funded proposal to build the lanes, but said the idea there remained a top priority.
State officials said they do not have enough money to add lanes in the traditional manner. They say that with optional toll lanes, at least every commuter will have the option of deciding whether they can pay to take the toll lanes.
Adding optional toll lanes is not the only idea in the works to make more space for Ga. 400 commuters. A pilot project announced by Gov. Nathan Deal in January would convert the highway's shoulder into a new travel lane between Holcomb Bridge Road and the North Springs MARTA station. The state DOT has said it hopes to have the project finished this year.
The remaining meetings to discuss toll lanes on Ga. 400 are scheduled for 5 to 7 p.m. for:
• Thursday, March 15
Piney Grove Middle School
8135 Majors Road, Cumming
• Tuesday, March 20
First Baptist Church Sandy Springs
650 Mount Vernon Highway, Sandy Springs