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.