HOT Lanes: Officials talk toll prices

NORCROSS - Tolls on Interstate 85 could range between 10 cents and $1 a mile, officials said Tuesday at a public hearing on the proposed high-occupancy toll lane project.

With users expected to average a six-mile trip on the 15-mile section of toll lanes proposed from Old Peachtree Road to Chamblee-Tucker Road, the average payment for a trip would range from 60 cents to $6, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said.

The pricing, which will escalate when traffic increases, is expected to ensure that drivers can reach 45 miles per hour speeds in the HOT lane, even when the other lanes of the interstate are congested.

"You can choose to pay the toll and know you will have the reliable drive time," Pope said.

But Lawrenceville man Kevin Marshall said the project makes him feel like he will be penalized. He carpools with his wife, even though it can be inconvenient at times.

Under the new plan, he would be charged for using the high-occupancy lane, as the law increases to allow free use only with three people or more in the car.

As two-person carpools are moved into the general purpose lanes, Marshall said the project could produce even worse traffic, just two years after feeling some relief on the highway after the three-year-long construction project at Ga. Highway 316.

"We paid our taxes for all (the 316 improvements). We paid in time for construction. Now you tell me in two years they will take away that relief, and we'll pay again," he said. "It's tough to swallow."

Only 16 people turned out to the public hearing, the first in a second series of meetings to introduce the public to the project, funded in large part by a $110 million federal grant and which could be under construction early next year.

Balaji Rao of Chamblee said he doesn't think the toll lane could improve traffic.

"I don't think the government should charge everyone every chance they get," he said. "This is a very miniscule attempt to pretend to change things."

Tom Parker, a UPS driver from Woodstock said the state's $37 million share in the costs would be best spent elsewhere.

"I think it's very unethical. It's abuse of power by the DOT," he said. "Do we really need this?"

Public hearings will continue this week, with the next scheduled for 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Gwinnett Center on Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. A final session will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday in front of the Belk store in the lower level of the Mall of Georgia in Buford.

Comments will also be accepted at the project's Web site at www.dot.ga.gov/I85HOTlanes or by sending an e-mail to hotlanecomment@jacobs.com.