LAWRENCEVILLE -- Peach Passes will soon be in the mail for Gwinnett's police officers and firefighters.
Gwinnett commissioners approved an agreement with the State Road and Tollway Authority for free access to the High Occupancy Toll lanes activated along Interstate 85 over the weekend.
"That's our greatest interest is using them to transport (patients) to hospitals downtown," Gwinnett Fire Chief Bill Myers said. "I don't know if (traffic) will be better or worse, but the important part is having access so we don't have to sit in the traffic."
While Gwinnett Medical Center has a trauma center, Myers said medics often have to transport trauma victims to Atlanta Medical Center and Grady Hospital, and younger patients are often transported to one of the children's hospitals in Atlanta.
Not only will access to the express lanes help patients get to care downtown, but it will also allow the county ambulances to get back to Gwinnett in a timely manner to wait for the next call, Myers said.
Police Chief Charles Walters said the express lanes will also help police officers.
"We travel down the interstate all the time," he said. "That's the quickest way to get around here."
While Gwinnett will not be charged when public safety vehicles use the toll lanes, according to the agreement, the tollway authority has asked that the county vehicles be registered, so data can be maintained.
The authority released more statistics on the opening days of the new system Tuesday.
On Monday, a total 3,217 registered vehicles used the express lanes, SRTA officials said, although they did not say how many paid the toll, as carpoolers with three or more people in a vehicle are exempt.
During the afternoon rush hour, express lane users cut their commutes in half, taking 16 minutes to travel the 16-mile stretch from Old Peachtree Road to Chamblee-Tucker Road, compared to 34 minutes for people in the general purpose lanes during the most congested timeframe for commuters returning from Atlanta to Gwinnett.
The toll rate peaked at $5.40 for the entire stretch, or about 34 cents a mile. The price for the stretch was about 10 cents less than the peak that morning, but on Tuesday morning, the high amount was $5.55.
The speeds for both rush hours were similar. Monday afternoon, people in the express lanes reached speeds of 52 mph, compared to 30 mph on average in the general purpose lanes. Tuesday morning, the average speed in the express at Pleasant Hill Road (the most congested part of the corridor) was 54 mph, compared to an average of 28 mph in the general purpose lanes.