LAWRENCEVILLE -- More toll lanes could be coming to Gwinnett, but this time a public comment period could actually change the discussion.
Feedback will begin with an open house March 21 on a proposal to extend express lanes along Interstate 85 -- adding 10 miles to the 16-mile stretch converted to high-occupancy toll lanes in October 2011.
But people frustrated that the first project was a done deal before the public spoke last time around can be assured that input will be involved in this project, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said.
"There is a no-build option with this project," she said, contrasting it to the first funded by a federal grant. "We're coming out to the public to solicit their input."
The $95 million proposal also has a key difference from the current HOT lanes between Old Peachtree Road and Chamblee-Tucker Road, which were converted from carpool lanes. These express lanes would be along newly laid asphalt, adding another lane between Old Peachtree Road and Hamilton Mill Road.
"In essence, this would add one lane in each direction that people could choose to use for a more reliable trip time," Pope said.
This project, which includes a bridge at the interstate's juncture with I-985, would be funded by the state's gas tax, and tolls would go toward maintenance of the system, Pope added.
Malika Wilkins, a spokeswoman for the State Road and Tollway Authority, said a decision on toll prices has not been made, since the earliest construction could begin is summer 2014.
Pope did not give an appraisal of the controversial HOT lanes project, which is about 16 months into a two-year demonstration project.
But Wilkins said the lanes have become more popular since their rocky beginning.
"We are encouraged by the data trends we are seeing in the Express Lanes with the increased usage and Peach Pass issuance from month to month since opening in October 2011," she said. "More and more motorists are choosing to use the Express Lanes for a more reliable trip. We will continue to monitor the performance of the lanes."
Public hearings are scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday March 21 at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce in Duluth and Thursday, March 28 at the Braselton Police and Municipal Court Building.
If the project moves forward, Pope said another set of hearings will be held next year, and the lanes could open in 2017.