File Photo - Afternoon traffic flows on Interstate 85 near the Beaver Ruin Road exit.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Even while weekday tolls have hit a record high, officials are preparing to drastically drop the cost of Gwinnett's HOT lanes during off-peak hours.
The proposal, which would allow toll rates as low as a penny a mile during weekends and other low-traffic times, cleared a federal hurdle Wednesday.
While a meeting has not yet been set, State Road and Tollway Authority spokeswoman Malika Reed Wilkins said the SRTA board will soon consider changing the toll rates from 10 to 99 cents a miles to 1 to 99 cents a mile.
That would allow a fare as low as 16 cents for the entire toll stretch along Interstate 85 between Old Peachtree Road and Chamblee-Tucker Road, encouraging usage when the interstate is not congested.
"Gov. (Nathan) Deal approves of these changes and encourages the members of SRTA's board to do so as well," the governor's spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield said.
Although still unpopular among some commuters, HOT lanes usage has surged since its October opening. Last month, the lane reached capacity during morning commutes, and Wilkins said some days more than 2,000 cars use the lane in an hour.
Earlier this week, that caused the highest tolls since the lanes opened -- $4.10 during the morning peak for the 16-mile route.
That new record caused Howard Rodgers to wonder if talks of lower weekend rates could be a "smoke screen" to distract people from the rising cost.
"It's a whole lot easier to give the good news," said Rodgers, who started a petition against the lanes last year.
"I'm still pretty opposed to it," he said, adding that his commute, which doubled in October when the lanes began, has become about 15 minutes shorter in recent weeks. "In the HOT lanes, the traffic has slowed down. They've overcongested that particular lane and now they are having to price people out of it."
While Wilkins denied the smoke screen accusation, she explained that the toll process is tied to congestion.
"Motorists may have witnessed higher toll rates as the system is designed to manage demand for the express lanes through pricing to keep traffic free-flowing at a targeted speed of 45 (miles per hour) on average," Wilkins said.