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State talks toll option for Sugarloaf extension

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The third possibility of a toll road in Gwinnett has emerged -- the "Gwinnett connector."

State Transportation Board officials discussed a list Wednesday of road improvements that could be funded by tolls. Along with Interstates 75 and 285 was a proposed Sugarloaf Parkway extension connecting Ga Highway 316 to Peachtree Industrial Boulevard in western Gwinnett.

"We'd certainly be interested in looking at options in conjunction with (the state)," said Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen, who was not at Wednesday's meeting.

County officials have been interested in creating a limited-access road along the Gwinnett path of the now-defunct Northern Arc since the project was halted in 2002.

Extensions to Sugarloaf are already under way southeast of Lawrenceville, and funding has been set aside to carry the road to Ga. 316 south of Dacula.

But even though the state owns 60 percent of the route north of Ga. 316 and county officials have continued to buy land to preserve the path from development, officials have wondered for years how the road could be financed.

"We can't fund it locally because the price tag would be so high," Allen said. "The federal funds aren't there as they were in the past. ... You have to look at all the options out there. Tolls have to be part of the mix to help the region move forward because there isn't enough money out there."

Allen said officials would need more specifics before endorsing a toll option, but the funding mechanism has gotten stronger looks in the past several months.

Just Tuesday, county officials set up a citizens committee to help review the feasibility to use tolls to finance an extension of Ronald Reagan Parkway to link the road to Interstate 85.

And later this month, state officials will hold another public hearing on a proposal to convert high-occupancy vehicle lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett and DeKalb to high-occupancy toll lanes. There, officials are considering using a congestion-based pricing system, varying from 10 cents to $1 a mile.

Allen said tolls may be the only way to make the northern Sugarloaf extension a possibility in the immediate future, but he said he had no idea how much a toll would cost.

"It sounds as if that's something we'd be supportive of because it sounds like something we'd like to build," Allen said of the connector. "If it's going to be expedited, it may have to be done that way."

A message left Wednesday evening for Rudy Bowen, Gwinnett's representative on the State Transportation Board, was not immediately returned.