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Tolls for HOT lanes lowered after Deal speaks out

Nathan Deal

Nathan Deal

ATLANTA — At the behest of Gov. Nathan Deal, tolls were cheaper Thursday afternoon along Gwinnett’s new HOT lanes.

Less than a week after the Interstate 85 express lanes conversion, the governor called for lower tolls and more changes to help people stuck in traffic.

“Looking at what we’ve learned from our first four work days with the HOT lanes, I’ve asked (the State Road and Tollway Authority) to improve utilization of the express lanes,” Deal said in a press release. “In the short term, the toll rate will lower – starting with Thursday afternoon’s commute – but the effective rate will continue to change to regulate speed and volume.

Deal also asked for changes along the limited access points in the 16-mile corridor from Old Peachtree Road to Chamblee-Tucker Road. And he tackled one of the most controversial points of the new regulations — the increase of free access from two-person carpools to a requirement that three people must be in the car.

“Even before the lanes opened, we knew we needed to improve the access and exit points in the southbound direction. SRTA and the Georgia Department of Transportation are working together and I’ve directed them to prioritize this action,” he said Thursday afternoon. “Lastly, I-85 has long required two passengers for the express lanes. Federal regulations in effect with the HOT lanes increased the requirement to three passengers. I will pursue a federal waiver to move the requirement back to two.

Deal had said a day ago that he would monitor the toll lanes during the first month of operations, but less than a week after the tolls began, Deal said the changes could help congestion on Interstate 85.

“All of these actions are intended to increase the volume in the express lanes while maintaining its steady pace, relieve congestion in the all-access lanes, and encourage carpooling and use of the Peach Pass,” he said. “As governor, I’m committed to finding transportation solutions that help Georgians get to work and back home to their families. I will continue to monitor the situation as drivers become more accustomed to this new system.”

Victor Ramkissoon was ecstatic at the news.

The Snellville man has carpooled in the high-occupancy vehicle lanes along I-85 with his girlfriend for a year, but forced into the general purpose lanes to avoid the toll this week, his commute to work changed from 45 minutes to an hour to an hour and a half.

His “Against Peach Pass” Facebook page went from 30 likes this weekend to nearly 2,500 Thursday afternoon. But the governor’s announcement could lessen the animosity, he said.

“Sounds good so far,” Ramkissoon said of the lower toll, adding that he hopes the governor gets the waiver for two-person cars. “For me, that’s awesome.”

As of Thursday, the authority has issued 75,000 Peach Passes, the transponders that give access to the toll lane, nearly halfway to the goal of 175,000.

But many have complained that the express lanes are empty while the general purpose lanes on I-85 have become even more clogged. On Monday, about 3,000 registered drivers used the lanes, although information on how many paid the toll and how many were carpoolers was not known.

Comments

Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

Price does not need to be examined, Tolls need to be done away with. Go back to the 2 or maybe 3 peron system. By freeing up this lane from tolls traffic may move up to 20% faster. Dum idea from the git-go!!!!

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NewsReader 2 years, 11 months ago

What needs to be examined is the money trail. Let's pay another $MILLION or so and have another study! LOL ~ where does this lunacy end? Please vote this self-serving morons out of office!

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jack 2 years, 11 months ago

Has anyone considered the economic impact due to the slowdown of the movement of goods and services? Nah, didn't think so.

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dav 2 years, 11 months ago

Would you by an automobile from the man at the top of the page?

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citized 2 years, 11 months ago

Sooner than later people are going to get fustrated and be forced to use this lane. Even though it will put us more in the hole ,money wise. Everyone saw $$$$ in their eyes in the beginning. Why don't we just have armed cops at every intersection demanding our wallets for "the good of the state?'

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

That is exacty what they are counting on. Me I leave early for work say 5:15 or so. that way no tolls.

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OrganicGrl 2 years, 11 months ago

I actually love this and saves a lot of time getting to work. I don't understand why so many people are complaining about this and blaming the economy because they can't pay for this service. The most I have paid in the morning was .90 cents and most Gwinnettians can save that by avoiding the vending machine, eating out everyday at work, buying cigarettes, liquor and/or going to Starbucks. If you can't afford that and driving to work you need to look for another job or stay home. So many cities have this and their are no complaints.
I don't complain when my $2016.24 taxes goes to schools and my husband and I don't have any children.

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

We donot smoke,donot drink, donot eat out at lunch and certainly donot go to Starbucks. You must have traveled 85 during off peak hours,or to the next exit, to pay that much. Just not worth it to a lot of us that work for a living,at least those of us who have jobs.Like you we do not have children in the school system but do pay our fair share based upon home values. .

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dan 2 years, 11 months ago

Great points OrganicGrl. I completely agree. Also, if people really don't want to pay the tolls, start using the Xpress buses.

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

If we do not want to pay the tolls and you do that is fine. Most as you can see do not want to pay and think this is a dumb idea any way you look at it. What is next? The interstate system all around Atlanta be a toll road. This is just the first step. If this is not stopped now all Interstates will be just like GA 400.

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jack 2 years, 11 months ago

Yes, why should people complain when all they have to do is stop spending THEIR money on THEMSELVES and hand it over to the government?

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toby 2 years, 11 months ago

Organicgrl- Anything but the liquor. It takes liquor to get through this traffic.

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OutofMoney 2 years, 11 months ago

Let's just round it off and say that we are expected to pay $1000 per year to use these lanes. Isn't it funny that every place you look the selling point is to save you money. Why don"t they just send a bill to every home saying pay $1000. It's the same thing, because many will never use the lanes but you are still expected to fund them. How many years will it take for the investment to be a break even?

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g_netter 2 years, 11 months ago

this system is ridiculous as it eliminates the incentive for GDOT to do anything to improve traffic conditions. As we have seen this week, the commute now has gotten worse- I know, I've been sitting in it. GDOT will rely on this worse traffic to get people to pay up for a lane our tax dollars have already paid for. I've had it. Gwinnett is putting up some SPLOST votes soon for other projects, so I'm voting 'No' on anything they propose until Gwinnett at least can get behind its citizenry and fight against this ill-gotten HOT lane.

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HonestIngine 2 years, 11 months ago

Organic girl, if you are so organic, then why don't you ride your bike to work? Your on the wrong page here..

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HonestIngine 2 years, 11 months ago

Approximately 2,900 miles of toll roads are included in the Interstate Highway System. While federal legislation initially banned the collection of tolls on Interstates, many of the toll roads on the system were either completed or under construction when the Interstate Highway System was established. Since these highways provided logical connections to other parts of the system, they were designated as Interstate highways. Congress also decided that it was too costly to either build toll-free Interstates parallel to these toll roads, or directly repay all the bondholders who financed these facilities and remove the tolls. Toll facilities designated as Interstate highways (such as the Massachusetts Turnpike) were typically allowed to continue collecting tolls, but are generally ineligible to receive federal funds for maintenance and improvements. In addition, these toll facilities were grandfathered from Interstate Highway standards. A notable example is the western approach to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, where Interstate 676 has a surface street section through a historic area. Policies on toll facilities and Interstate Highways have since changed. The Federal Highway Administration has allowed some states to collect tolls on existing Interstate Highways, while a recent extension of Interstate 376 included a section of Pennsylvania Route 60 that was tolled by the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission before receiving Interstate designation. Also, newer toll facilities (like the tolled section of I-376, which was built in the early 1990s) must conform to Interstate standards. A new addition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices in 2009 requires a black-on-yellow "Toll" sign to be placed above the Interstate trailblazer on Interstate Highways that collect tolls.

Legislation passed in 2005 known as SAFETEA-LU, encouraged states to construct new Interstate Highways through "innovative financing" methods. SAFETEA-LU facilitated states to pursue innovative financing by easing the restrictions on building interstates as toll roads, either through state agencies or through public-private partnerships. However, SAFETEA-LU left in place a prohibition of installing tolls on existing toll-free Interstates, and states wishing to toll such routes to finance upgrades and repairs must first seek approval from Congress.

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

So if we read this correctly the toll laned on Interstate 85 must have apporval from Congress and we must pay for the m repairs out of the state budget. Could this be 'unconstituional'? Sounds like it.

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Jan 2 years, 11 months ago

I will not consider getting a peach pass because of the initial $20 deposit requirement. With a viable credit card, there should be no initial deposit requirements and charges not made to the account until the pass is charged a toll, especially for those that indicate it is primarily for a three or more carpool.

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byronomo 2 years, 11 months ago

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I think that the HOT lanes should address 3 problems: 1)Traffic Congestion 2)Pollution 3)Revenues

The new HOT lanes fail on all 3 counts: 1)Traffic is equally (or more) congested in the general purpose lanes, while the HOT lanes are under-utilized. I don't consider 3000 vehicles (using HOT) out of 250,000 (using I-85) to be real relief to the congestion issue. 2)The old HOV lanes encouraged car-pools of 2 or more people, which cuts down on pollution. Given the way that Atlanta is laid-out (a very large area), the odds of being able to find 2 car pool partners who live and work reasonably close to one another are probably pretty low in any case. In the new system, this is upped to 3 people, making the odds even worse. Not to mention, that if you have 3 people who don't live/work on the same exits (meaning one or more has to get out "early" leaving the remaining 2 subject to the toll), then the advantage of the HOT diminishes greatly. At some point, it becomes too cumbersome and people will revert to driving themselves rather than subjecting themselves to the inconvenience (and expense, now) of carpooling.

3)If the goal is to raise additional revenues (for whatever purpose)---without getting into whether or not the revenues SHOULD be raised---the HOT doesn't really accomplish that. If the utilization is as low as it's been this week (3000 cars X the average toll), I'm guessing that the revenues don't really move the needle even if this doubles.

Lastly, the GDOT has been heralding the "time saved" by the drivers who opted to use the HOT lane this week. They are painting themselves into a dangerous corner because if, somehow, the usage of those lanes increase, the speeds in those lanes will necessarily decrease while the toll rate for those lanes will increase. While paying $.90 to save 30 minutes may be deemed a "good deal" for a precious few now---what if that becomes $9.00 for 5 minutes?

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Oliver 2 years, 11 months ago

This whole fiasco is just another example of the the elites forcing their brand of "they know what's best for us" on us. They acknowledge that it'll make traffic worse for most of us, yet they do it anyway. How did this one happen to us??? Follow the money trail.....

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OrganicGrl 2 years, 11 months ago

ATTN: Mack711 I said most Gwinnettians not WE as in all. I didn't specifically say YOU or ALL Gwinnettians.. FYI, I leave home at 7 am. If it is not worth it, don't complain you have a total 5 lanes you can travel and everybody is complaining about 1 lane that is less that 1.50 a day. Give me a break. Moving on.

@Jan the total deposit goes toward your lane not a fee and then a deposit. I used my credit card, but others I know use cash at the location.

What is the purpose when to lower the lanes when it is the SLOW drivers who causes traffic. This week just observing the traffic it is not many cars on 85, the problem is so many gaps

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

As you can see by the comments on this page you are clearly in the minority. When the Olympics came to Atlanta our company moved the starting time from 7:30AM to 6AM. Since our company near PDK is a 24/7 operation this worked out very well. Business were encouraged to stagger starting times.This is a more logical approach than this hot lane idea.Should the regulations change as to the use of the HOT lanes, and they will, you will be stuck like so many otheres.Now if you wish to pay extra for this, be our guest but most do not and probably will not. Like the previous comment by honestingine above is worth reading again.

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OrganicGrl 2 years, 11 months ago

@ Mack711 I didn't say you and your family, I said MOST Gwinnettians not ALL. FYI, I leave home every morning at 7 am when traffic is the heaviest to answer your question.

I don't understand why Gov. Deal is lowering the rate. What will be the purpose if everyone can use ONE lane to drive? TRAFFIC, and that will defeat the purpose. If they decide to change to 2 person, please make sure these two people can legally drive to affect the one less car (carpool) on the road. Over the years I have seen so many people abuse this rule where baby seat, teenager without a license is considered the second person, and nothing is done about it.

Driving this past week in the Hot lane made me notice why traffic is so bad..Some people can't drive. I have seen so many gaps and people in the left lane drive so SLOW. Matter of fact, if you drive slow on the interstate and, hold your phone while driving please stay in the far right lane. Like today, in the hot lane one person decided to go less than 40 miles when the car in front of it was over a mile ahead of it. Behind this car was at least 14 cars going 35 miles (speed limit was 65miles at that spot) This is what causes traffic and accidents. If you want to drive that slow and pace yourself please take the street way and not the HOT lane, because clearly the interstate is not for you.

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OrganicGrl 2 years, 11 months ago

honestlingine..If I could ride my bike to work I would, but in the meantime I will continue to drive my Hybrid. Thank you very much and Happy Friday. :)

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studentgt 2 years, 11 months ago

OgranicGrl: I am with you. I travel the HOT lane as an alternative fuel vehicle and while my PeachPass is considered free. However, I pay additionally for the special tag annually and the discounted e85 price does not outweigh the cost for additional gallons needed since the fuel mileage is worse with e85. But this is my choice to pay for the convenience of riding in the HOV/HOT lane.

Last week I was behind 6 cars in the HOV lane who crossed the double white line to pass a slow 2 person carpool. It does not make sense if the HOT lane is traveling slower than the flow of traffic in the "free" lanes. In the AJC article, Tyler Duvall stated that "I-85’s HOV lane was already congested and not performing as it was supposed to. “The region has got to correct the congestion problem in the HOV lanes regardless of what we're doing here.”

I'm glad the 2 person carpools have been removed from the lane and pray it stays that way.

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

As long as the drivers in the HOV lane follow the posted speed limits and the law they have the right to drive in that lane. like you they move slower and we all have a lead foot at times. Get ready because the rules may change back if what we are reading from another site that this HOT lane may be challenged in the court system.

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Mack711 2 years, 11 months ago

This new HOT lane has a new name.The RICH DITCH is a flop. It is time to call Governor Deals Office with call of displeasure. . DIALING 404-656-1776. hello Governor's Deals office , how may we be of service? I am not happy with the I85 RICH DITCH! It is not producing the intended saving of time or keeping car exhaust down due to longer commute times for most citizens. Please look into the director Jannie and if she has a vested interest in the technology of this program. At this time of tightening budgets how can you put i pace a program that will cost around $35 per week or an extra 35 minutes each day for those whom can not afford the RICH DITCH prices. Phone call will change what our drive times will be. Only 100 calls a day can change opinions, won't you make the call for the betterment of our check books?

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Gulfwatersgirl 2 years, 11 months ago

I am not really sure Organic Girl how you can only pay 90 cents . Was that two go one exit? When you start at Old Peachtree and go to Shallowford I can assure you that is several dollars at 8am. Just sayin!

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studentgt 2 years, 11 months ago

True, however, this is also the law:

40-6-40. (b) Upon all roadways, any vehicle proceeding at less than the normal speed of traffic at the time and place and under the conditions then existing shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic, or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway, except when overtaking and passing another vehicle proceeding in the same direction or when preparing for a left turn at an intersection or into a private road or driveway.

40-6-184. (a)(1) No person shall drive a motor vehicle at such a slow speed as to impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, except when reduced speed is necessary for safe operation.

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junebug0219 2 years, 11 months ago

Hot lane, huh? Maybe not so hot!!!

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CD 2 years, 11 months ago

This is about revenue enhancement and getting everyone used to the idea of tolls. I can't wait until the "privatization" arguments come into play and we can pay the private toll barons in Saudi Arabia or wherever mega bucks just to go to work every day in addition to gas prices inflated by cheap money and unbridled speculation. But most importantly my question is this: where were the members of the Gwinnett Republican Delegation during the creation of this latest fiasco? They claim to be against increased taxes so where were they? Perhaps visiting Brett over at Propeller Investments and dining with him at his lake property while they discuss their latest "gift" in the form of Briscoe Field.
Keep in mind that George W. Bush signed into law SAFETEA-LU in 2005 which allows for tolls on existing or newly-created interstates. Before this, tolls were only allowed on turnpikes and were “grandfathered in” before the implementation of the Eisenhower Interstate System.

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kevin 2 years, 11 months ago

This is double-taxation at its best. It takes a taxpayer funded government to come up with such a stupid idea as this. Stop all commercial vehicles from using this lane and the HOV lane could have stayed free. They clogged it up 24/7. Many people say no to this idea, but like our government, does only the will of its own to keep collecting our tax money for themselves.

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