In this file photo, the Express Lanes along I-85 don't show much traffic during a morning rush hour.
By Camie Young
LAWRENCEVILLE — Tolls are down. Usage of Interstate 85’s HOT lanes is up.
But traffic is still clogged.
The express lane system is in its second week, but stretches around Pleasant Hill Road still take up to three times as long as they did in the first days of the system, according to reports.
Last Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal intervened and the toll prices — still based on congestion — were cut by more than 40 percent.
“I am relieved that Gov. Deal has entered the discussion directly himself,” said Gwinnett Chairwoman Charlotte Nash, who has not given her opinion about the controversial toll proposal but did not attend a ceremony launching the project two weeks ago. “I am so sympathetic with the folks who are so frustrated with it. ... There is certainly an impact on the traffic flow. There is no doubt about that.”
Nash has a Peach Pass, which gives her access to the toll lanes, but has vowed only to use it in “dire emergencies.”
One morning last week, she was late to a meeting in Atlanta, as the hour and a half drive from her home in the Harbins community stretched to two hours.
And she is even seeing the impact on surface streets, like Satellite Boulevard.
“Obviously people are trying to figure out ways to avoid the interstate and that creates more traffic on the surface streets,” she said. “Traffic is a funny thing. ... There are all sorts of ripple effects.”
Nash said she hoped the changes Deal has accelerated — the toll rates already lowered, the work on another access point and application for a waiver for two-person carpoolers to get free access — will help in trimming down the traffic.
“I can’t visualize the drivers in Gwinnett having to deal with this kind of situation indefinitely,” she said. “It’s not just the time. It’s the frustration people feel when they are in a situation they cannot control. ... I’m hopeful that (Deal) will keep pushing on this, and give folks some relief.”