Toll lane proposal revamped

LAWRENCEVILLE - The governor's office has stepped on the gas in a bid to fund a congestion relief project, applying for millions of dollars to bring optional toll lanes to Interstate 85.

The proposal for high-occupancy toll lanes on a 14.4-mile stretch of highway from Interstate 285 to Old Peachtree Road was rejected in August, but Bert Brantley, a spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said the idea was well received by the federal government and he was pleased that other grants were available.

"We got nothing but glowing marks about our initial proposal, except that they didn't fund it," Brantley said previously.

The new proposal asks for $165 million to convert high-occupancy vehicle lanes to the toll lanes, of which the state will pay for 20 percent. Brantley said the initial request asked for $130 million. That number ballooned to more than $300 million as the program's scope expanded, but this application focuses on a smaller area.

Brantley said the additional dollars requested for the project would pay for new technologies to be implemented.

"Technology in tolling, congestion pricing and enforcement continue to advance as jurisdictions around the country implement systems and we learn from their experiences," Brantley wrote in an e-mail. "The additional costs reflect additional technologies that we have identified since the last application was put into place."

Brantley said if the plan is selected, it would be ready to open a year and a half after funding was approved. The federal Department of Transportation does not have a set date for when that will be, saying only that it intends to announce agreements during fiscal year 2008.

This new proposal is the same as the initial idea, Brantley said, and incorporates tolling, transit, telework and technology components. 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.

Five cities' congestion mitigation projects were funded from the original $1.1 billion pool, paid for by an Urban Partnership grant. They 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.

Gwinnett officials have said they would back the application, which was submitted to the federal Department of Transportation by a Dec. 31 deadline.