HOT lanes plan tries new route for funds

LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett may have a second chance to cash in on a proposal that would bring optional toll lanes to Interstate 85.

This summer, the state lost its bid to use federal funding to convert high-occupancy vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes on the road.

But a new congestion reduction grant could provide the money to build more than 28 miles of toll lanes, from Interstate 285 to north of Interstate 985.

Bert Brantley, the spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the governor has until Dec. 31 to decide whether to apply for the grant. The original proposal asked for $308 million for a demonstration project, but Brantley said he did not know what the scope of a new application might be.

"We're frustrated we didn't get funded, but we're very pleased with the new opportunity," Brantley said. "We got nothing but glowing marks about our initial proposal, except that they didn't fund it. There's no other thing to do but look into it."

Brian Allen, Gwinnett's director of transportation, said the county would support a new application as long as it was framed similarly to the one that was rejected. Brantley said with such a short time frame, there was little that could be changed.

A decision would be made before Christmas, Brantley said.

According to the initial proposal, single drivers would be charged a variable price depending on congestion and the time of day, while carpools of three or more who entered the toll lanes would be able to drive for free.

The system would also include credits for commuters and the addition of more buses and park-and-ride lots.

The five cities that were funded from the original $1.1 billion pool were New York, Miami, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Francisco.

After the plan was first rejected, State Road and Tollway Authority Director Rosa Rountree said the HOT lanes, as they are known, might be appropriate for a public-private partnership. Other officials have also said they would look for other opportunities to fund the project.

"Based on the positive feedback we received, the only right thing to do is to take a hard look," Brantley said. "We said at the time we were pretty confident with the proposal we'd put together."