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Funds go to Los Angeles instead of Atlanta

LAWRENCEVILLE - Atlanta's proposal to build high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 85 is a good one, a federal transportation official said.

But it may not be eligible for a large portion of grant funds that became available when New York City failed to pass congestion pricing legislation that would have required some drivers to pay a toll to enter parts of the city.

Friday, the Department of Transportation announced that Los Angeles would be getting a $213 million congestion reduction grant, part of it paid for with the New York dollars.

Tyler Duvall, the acting undersecretary for transportation policy, said more grants using the remainder of the $354.5 million New York rejected would be announced in the coming weeks.

Georgia's proposal, which fell short of winning a grant from the federal department last summer, would put HOT lanes on a 14.4-mile stretch from Interstate 285 to Old Peachtree Road. A second phase of the project could extend the lanes up Interstate 985.

But because a good portion of New York's money would have gone toward public transportation, Duvall said the HOT lane proposal may not be eligible for the same dollars.

"Atlanta's proposal is still, in our view, a very good proposal," Duvall said. "Those are uniquely transit-oriented funds."

The HOT lane project would include more express buses and park-and-ride lots, but Duvall would not say whether it was still being considered for the money that is available.

The state has applied for other grants, but Duvall said at least one of them has less funding than did the grants that were already awarded.

He said the department will continue to offer grants to large cities with congestion problems.

"I strongly believe there are a lot of opportunities for Atlanta," Duvall said. "We want to continue to support Atlanta in a lot of different ways."

No one for the governor's press office returned several messages about the HOT lane proposal.

In the past, spokesman Bert Brantley said he had heard only praise for the proposal, which would charge single drivers a variable price to enter the lane depending on congestion and the time of day, while allowing carpools of three or more who entered the toll lanes to drive for free.

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

The most recent grant proposal asks for $165 million to convert current high-occupancy vehicle lanes to the toll lanes, of which the state would pay for 20 percent. The initial request asked for $130 million, but that number ballooned to more than $300 million as the program's scope expanded. The current application focuses on a smaller area.