Interstate 85 toll lane proposal still alive

DULUTH - A proposal to convert some lanes on Interstate 85 for tolls might be right for a public-private initiative, the state's tolling director said Wednesday.

The proposal, which would convert high-occupancy vehicle lanes to optional toll lanes outside of Interstate 285, failed to get a share of a $1.1 billion grant offered by the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month.

But Rosa Rountree, the director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, said the high-occupancy toll lane proposal is still very much alive.

"This is still a potential project," she said. "You may be hearing about this again. It was a great project, and we're really disappointed we didn't get it."

The state had asked for $308 million to convert existing HOV lanes to HOT lanes and to extend the managed lanes past Interstate 985. Rountree said Georgia's proposal was sixth in the pipeline because it looked at a congested section of road and did not offer a comprehensive plan for all of metro Atlanta

Grants were awarded to New York, Miami, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Francisco, but Rountree said both New York and Washington states may not have laws in place to allow their proposals to go forward.

If those laws are not passed by the end of the coming legislative session, she said in a meeting at the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, she will try to get that money for the HOT lane project.

Rountree said another option is a public-private initiative. The Atlanta Regional Commission has said the 28-mile stretch of road may be ideal for a solicited proposal.

"The governor likes it," she said of the HOT lane plan. "I don't think we're tossing it off the table."