HOT lanes get cool reception

LAWRENCEVILLE - In the months since the Georgia Department of Transportation completed a $150 million transformation of Interstate 85 at Ga. Highway 316, Niki Pantelias said traffic has moved much smoother.

But the Duluth woman is worried a proposal to convert the interstates carpool lanes into toll lanes will undo all that work.

Pantelias was one of 80 residents to turn out Thursday for the first of five public hearings on the high occupancy toll proposal, where rates would depend on the traffic in the lane.

A federal grant has been awarded to convert 14 miles of the high occupancy vehicle lanes on I-85 from Chamblee-Tucker Road to Old Peachtree Road, allowing people to pay a toll to get home faster.

If it's successful, officials may convert the state's entire 44-mile HOV lane network to HOT lanes.

"I think with the DOT's situation and tight funds, I think they have to look at all options," Lawrenceville man Mark Mullin said, adding that he may pay a toll, if the price is right.

"If there is something I need to go downtown for, I would consider it," he said. Prices have not been determined but would increase when the traffic is heaviest, in an attempt to manage the traffic and guarantee a quicker drive.

Dan Bieller said the practice wouldn't be fair to people who can't afford a toll.

"This is an extravagance to me," he said.

With concerns of safety and carpoolers questioning the proposal to increase the passenger requirement from one to two to drive on the lane for free, staffers from the DOT and State Road and Tollway Authority explained the project.

But for many, the nagging question was the impact on traffic, since the HOV lanes are already clogged during rush hour.

Pantelias said the toll would push drivers out of the carpool lane and into the general traffic.

"The effect of this will be to make life better for certain people who can afford it and make life worse for everybody else," she said. "I'd hate for them to do all this construction and put us back in a situation with a lot of delays."

The public meetings will continue for the next week, with the last section planned for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 4 at Discover Mills mall.

Comments can be e-mailed to hotlanecomment@jacobs.com, and more information is available at www.dot.ga.gov.

SideBar: If You Go

What: Open house meetings on HOT lane proposal on Interstate 85

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Gwinnett Fire Academy, 3609 Braselton Highway, Dacula

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Senior Connections, 5238 Peachtree Road, Chamblee

When: 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday

Where: Ashiana's Banquet Hall inside the Global Mall, 5675 Jimmy Carter Boulevard, Norcross

When: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 4

Where: Discover Mills Mall, 5900 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville