Officials see HOT as 'move forward'

Photo by Brian Giandelone

Photo by Brian Giandelone

BUFORD -- A high-occupancy toll lane project on Interstate 85 could steer the way for a new concept in managing traffic, officials said Thursday as they lauded the beginning of construction in Gwinnett.

"We're not tearing apart a road. We're managing the lane to use it more efficiently," Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance Smith said. "This is 2010. We can't do things like 1910. We've got to move forward."

Construction will begin in the coming weeks to add signs and technology to convert the high-occupancy vehicle lanes from Old Peachtree Road to Chamblee-Tucker Road. The conversion is part of a $110 million federal grant that also will double the amount of express buses traveling on the interstate.

"Those HOV lanes right now don't work. They don't work when you need them the most," during rush hour, said Janine Miller of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Because the lanes are filled with carpoolers, most of whom only have one other passenger at a time, officials are converting the lanes to only allow cars with at least three people inside for free, along with motorcyclists and buses. Miller said that will free up capacity to allow others to pay for access to the lane.

The price will vary from 10 cents a mile to 90 cents, based on the congestion at the time. With a higher price during higher traffic, officials hope to guarantee a 45 mph trip.

"It's going to provide a reliable trip time," Miller said, calling the concept, "a new and innovative approach that Atlanta commuters, I think, are going to love."

When the lanes are converted around this time next year, anyone who hopes to travel in them must purchase a Peach Pass -- a transponder that will record when a car enters and exits the lanes and will calculate the fee.

Smith called the conversion project a "demonstration," explaining that data will be gathered for a number of years and if it is not working, the idea could be scrapped. If it is working, it could expand to other interstates.

"When we get the facts and figures, if it needs to change, we'll change it," he said, adding that he expects, "It'll help move the traffic around."