Staff Photo: John Bohn Howard Rodgers, right, speaks during a town hall meeting that he organized for foes of the Route 85 HOT lanes, Thursday evening at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center. At left is Georgia State Senator Curt Thompson, D Tucker.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- With empty seats set for government leaders, Gwinnettians angry over toll lanes talked about increasing accountability in a time when even local senators have no control.
"There is no representation to the taxation we are suffering right now," said Howard Rodgers, a Lawrenceville man who organized Thursday's town hall meeting after creating an online petition to stop the HOT lanes, which were activated on Interstate 85 last month.
Sens. Renee Unterman and Curt Thompson, the only two officials who attended Thursday's town hall meeting, out of about 50 who were invited, said transportation governance would be a hot topic under the Gold Dome in January.
Thompson said a system that took political cronyism out of transportation decisions decades ago created an "ivory tower" at the Georgia Department of Transportation.
"I don't want to vote where every traffic light goes," said Thompson, whose district includes 10 miles of the 16-mile corridor where tolls are paid. "I should have some input."
But since legislation will take time, and many officials declined to attend the event, the senators said the quickest way to stop the toll was to reach out to congressmen, since the managed lanes are a federal pilot project.
"Everyone tells me to sit back and wait, but it's very difficult," Unterman said, adding that officials have not given her an answer on when the idea will be reconsidered. "Gwinnett County is in a crisis, bt DOT does not even have a person to go to to complain to."
While the toll lanes have created a great deal of contention in the past six weeks, State Road and Tollway officials have said the idea is catching on, with more than 100,000 Peach Passes issued and usage passing 10,000 a day.
Less than 100 people attended Thursday's session, planned after a GOP town hall ended in frustration last month.
James and Marilyn Wall said the HOT lanes conversion even caused them to switch James's heart doctor for fear that they could not get to the hospital in time.
Marilyn Wall said she was alarmed that the potential loss of federal funds because carpool lanes were no longer meeting standards was behind the change.
"Our addiction to (federal money) caused use tremendous pains," she said, pointing to possible impacts on quality of life and even jobs. "Atlanta is losing out. Gwinnett is going to lose out."
But the Dacula couple was disheartened to learn that those in attendance had little hope of an immediate change.
"It doesn't seem like there is a thing they can do about it," James Wall said, adding that he supported the governance change. "I'd like to see anything done that would let the voices of the people be heard."