$2 toll to finance planned Interstate 20 expansion
Followup to failed Ga. 316 project won't toll existing lanes

ATLANTA - Motorists traveling in new "managed" lanes on Interstate 20 between I-285 and Conyers would pay a $2 toll under a proposal outlined Thursday by the state Department of Transportation.

At first, the toll for the nine-mile stretch of widened highway would apply throughout the day.

But in the coming decades, as traffic along the corridor increases, the price to get out of the three general-purpose lanes in each direction into the two managed lanes during peak periods would go up. By 2050, according to the plan, driving the entire length one way during rush hour would cost nearly $5.

DOT officials looking for a way to relieve ever-worsening traffic gridlock in the Atlanta region are banking on such peak pricing as part of the solution.

"We're not doing it to raise money," DOT Treasurer Earl Mahfuz said Thursday after an hour-long presentation of the proposal. "We're doing it to enhance mobility."

Tolls to finance highway improvements in Georgia aren't a new idea.

Two years ago, the DOT was considering a proposal from a private consortium of road builders to convert Ga. Highway 316 into a four-lane limited-access road linking Lawrenceville and Athens.

The project's sponsors envisioned financing the improvements with a one-way toll of up to $4.67.

But those plans fizzled after an outcry from motorists who objected to paying to drive on a highway built with tax dollars.

Learning from that experience, the State Transportation Board adopted a policy that prohibits tolling existing lanes.

As a result, the project outlined Thursday calls for tolls only on the new lanes envisioned with the widening.

A flat toll of $2 would be charged during off-peak hours on each segment and - when the road first opens - at all times of day, according to a preliminary analysis prepared by C&M Associates, a consultant working for the DOT on the project.

Later, as traffic rises, the analysis calls for higher tolls during peak hours.

"We raise tolls as congestion occurs," said Carlos Contreras of C&M Associates.

A one-way peak toll of $3.92 to drive the full length of the project in 2030 would go up to $4.93 in 2050.

In 2010 dollars, the tolls would generate more than $1.5 billion in gross revenue through 2050, according to the consultant's analysis.

Like the 316 project, the proposed widening of I-20 would be a public-private initiative. Private companies would finance and build the expansion, then recover their investment with toll revenue.

However, the I-20 project is the first PPI the DOT is proposing. Road-building companies have initiated all of the previous public-private project proposals unsolicited by the DOT, including the 316 improvements and several ambitious projects along interstates 75 and 285, and Ga. Highway 400.