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CLINE: HOT lanes not so hot

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

It wasn’t planned. Or enjoyed much, for that matter. But by quirk of schedule, I found myself traversing the interstate during rush hour on both Monday and Tuesday, the first two commuting days since the HOT lanes were installed.

Like most people, I don't like traffic. Don't have the patience for it. Don't understand how people slog through it day after mind-numbing day. Would rather drive 10 miles out of my way and be moving than be dead stopped in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

As with most things you don't like (for me, eating liver would be another), the easiest way to cope is to avoid it altogether. So imagine how thrilled I was to see that my flight home from vacation arrived on Monday at 4 p.m., setting up a trip home made all the worse due to the first weekday use of the HOT lanes. I had scheduled myself to near certain doom, a fate I was reminded of as I entered Gwinnett County and traffic slowed to a stop.

Everywhere, that is, but the HOT lanes. To my left (my immediate left, to be precise) was a lane that seemingly taunted me with its absence of action. In some stretches it was so empty I half expected to see kids playing catch, taking advantage of the wide-open spaces.

But what really frustrated me was that just days earlier, on Friday night for instance, I would have been cleared to use that lane. Since I had a passenger with me, the lanes formerly know as HOV would have been open to us, allowing for a faster trip with no extra cost. But times (and laws) change, and my escape on this day would be nearly $5, had I been willing to pay it (and had the foresight to have already purchased a Peach Pass).

For a one-time, bad-things-are-going-to-happen-if-I'm-late emergency, I'd probably go ahead and pay the toll. But I can't imagine paying it very often, although the annoyance of Monday's commute could change that, especially over time. As I sat there in traffic I had plenty of time to think, and my feelings can be summed up with this slogan I coined: "A lane is a terrible thing to waste."

Armed with those good feelings, I tried it again on Tuesday morning. This time I couldn't help but thinking of the lack of luxury in the so-called Lexus Lane. Sure, you can drive fast, but where are the real perks. That lane doesn't even have its own exit; drivers in it have to slum it and use the same ones the rest of us do. And for that price, shouldn't you get a latte, or maybe a chicken biscuit?

But I digress. Monday was my bad, the scheduler doing shoddy work. Tuesday was an appointment that I didn't set, but no matter how it was planned the challenge was still there (and so were the HOT lanes, less empty than the night before but pretty open all the same).

Funny how low expectations can work in your favor. I left about 15 minutes earlier than usual, and was pleasantly surprised when traffic broke up around Beaver Ruin Road. Once again I had a passenger, which would have made the lane usable to me under the old rules. And again it was frustrating to see few cars in the HOT lanes, but that was tempered by the fact that I was moving much better than expected.

The end result was a commute much better than the previous day, but also one that was ultimately 15 minutes longer than usual. I prefer to get more out of new technology than that.

They say, "If you can't beat them, join them," but I don't think that will happen in this case. When it comes to the HOT lanes, for now I'll just pass. And start working on my scheduling.

Email Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.