Vehicular traffic moves northward Saturday as Interstate 85 express lanes are activated. Tolls are now charged for driving on the inside left lanes of Rt. 85 between Chamblee-Tucker to Old Peachtree.
NORCROSS -- A few weeks ago, Gena Evans thought the new toll lanes on Interstate 85 would have little impact their first rush hour in Gwinnett.
But after a run on Peach Passes -- the transponder required for traveling in the 16-mile HOT lanes stretch from Old Peachtree Road to Chamblee-Tucker Road -- the past few weeks, Evans said she doesn't know what to expect on Monday.
With a fraction of the usual weekday drivers on the interstate Saturday, the State Road and Tollway Authority marked "a new era in transportation" by beginning the new toll system, which is expected to spread throughout Atlanta in the next decade or so.
"It is really about having a choice," said Evans, the executive director of the tollway authority. "This provides a transportation advantage to people in that corridor who are willing to pay for that advantage."
Evans said the weekend launch was planned to give drivers a few days to get used to the lanes before the pressure of rush hour. But drivers will still have a "grace period" from fines to get used to the system, which has drawn fire from area residents.
"I think the whole thing is outrageous," said Spencer Snedecor, a Buford man who sometimes takes the highway as a single driver and sometimes carpools.
Cars with three or more people can ride in the lanes toll-free but still have to have a Peach Pass account and tell the authority. Snedecor said the requirements are onerous and he doesn't like that the government can track his travel.
"I think it'll create a hardship for Gwinnett residents. I think is unreasonable and outrageous," he said. "I think the road has already been paid for with my taxes."
Evans, though, downplayed complaints and confusion about the system.
"It's very, very simple from a commuter standpoint," she said. "The technology is very sophisticated, but the use of the lane is actually simple. Follow the rules of the road."
As of Friday morning, nearly 73,000 transponders had been issued, many in the last few weeks. The Peach Pass call center at 1-855-PCH-PASS worked through the weekend, and people also signed up via www.peachpass.com. The call center will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays in October and will be open from 8 to noon on Saturdays this month.
Jimmy Spiro, a Suwanee man meeting his sister at the Indian Trail Park & Ride lot Friday, said he didn't know much about the system but he thought it might help traffic-clogged I-85.
"I think it's a good idea. If you want to pay, get in there and go," he said.
Using a managed lane system, where the toll price changes based on congestion, officials are hoping to keep the lane flowing to provide reliable trip times. During the peak traffic times, the toll could be as much as 90 cents a mile.
Data on how much was charged and the lane usage on Saturday was not available, and Evans said it could take months before the impact on traffic is known.
But officials also have hopes that the federally funded project could also have an impact on the economy.
"It's all about job growth and getting people to their jobs," said Jannine Miller of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, who is credited with the idea for bringing the managed lanes concept to Atlanta. "This will be a more effective use of our infrastructure. ... We will have, for drivers in the most congested corridor in Atlanta, an option for a better quality of life, more time with their families and less stress."