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Public input coming Thursday on toll extension

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A chart of Interstate 85 toll lane usage from Oct. 2011 to Jan. 2013. (Click to enlarge)

DULUTH -- The first week or two was horrendous, but after a few months, the public outcry against Interstate 85's express lanes dwindled down to a dull roar.

But the detractors could come out again this week, as state officials host the first of two public meetings about an extension to the toll lanes.

A year and a half into the program, the average toll has risen to $1.42 for the month of January, with a high of $6.50. During its first 16 months, drivers have paid more than $5 million in tolls. That is still well below a break-even point, as the I-85 express lanes had $7.8 million in expenses during the fiscal year that ended last June (more recent figures were not available).

But leaders say the proposed 10-mile extension of the lanes northward from its current end at Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road isn't about the money. It is about creating a reliable trip time for drivers willing to pay.

Unlike the original 16-mile project, which opened in October 2011, the proposed extension would build new lanes for the tolls. The $95 million project would be funded by state gasoline tax funds and would include a bridge at the highway's split with I-985.

"In essence, this would add one lane in each direction that people could choose to use for a more reliable trip time," Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said last month.

Public hearings are scheduled for 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at the Gwinnett Center in Duluth and 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 before construction begins, and the lanes could open in 2017.

Comments

Summer2013 1 year, 1 month ago

I support anything that will reduce traffic and decrease drive time.

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R 1 year, 1 month ago

the public outcry against Interstate 85's express lanes dwindled down to a dull roar.

Because there’s not a DAMN thing we could do about it – unless one recalls the great success called T-SPLOST…

Of course hearings are already penciled in for dates prior to construction. Just flat tell us “this is how it will BE” so we can re-evaluate support of those running for re-election now.

The residents weren’t heard very well the first time around, so with regard to extending it, the odds of a repeat are exponentially greater against hearing input this go around. Besides, if comment input were really being collected, why would both meetings END before the mass of people actually involved can get there? Ending at 7PM – that’s actually an insult to the voters/residents.

If SRTA doesn’t have any better grasp of traffic patterns by now, or even care to make an effort to “appear to care” in the least, they really should be shut down ENTIRELY.

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Don_Coyote 1 year, 1 month ago

Not even meeting operating expenses. So the proposal here is to use $95,000,000 of motor fuel tax money that comes from all to be used to subsidize a lane extension for the few.

Not even meeting operating expenses. So SRTA will not have a prayer of ever recovering the $80 million for signs and sensors used to convert the existing lanes. They will tell you that was federal money though. So it is like, you know, a gift. (Never mind the 18.4¢ per gallon federal gas tax).

Not even meeting operating expenses. Imagine what would happen to these lanes, if, like a traditional toll road or bridge the users would have to pay off the construction costs and maintenance within 30 or 40 years? What they are currently charging doesn't even make bank on keeping up with the bills. The required rates to make that happen would require us to call them the Bentley lanes rather than just Lexus Lanes.

Not even meeting operating expenses. Common sense. Don't throw good money after bad. I will be there to see if there really is a "no-build" option this time now that they have admitted that was not one in the last go round.

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citized 1 year, 1 month ago

Suppose they build it and no-one used it? Traveled to airport the other day and saw maybe 5 cars using the hot lane. Good job!!!!!

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JohnGalt 1 year, 1 month ago

Why must we go through this discussion ad nauseam? Here's what I said about it before.

Seriously? The GDOT isn't interested in public input. If they were, we wouldn't have the HOT lanes we have now. I have asked this question before and still await an answer. Who is it that has the authority to do this without so much as a bonafide vote of the people who are impacted by it the most which are the citizens of Gwinnett County? They can showboat with this horse manure about public input all they want. At the end of the day, they have an initiative that has nothing to do with traffic and has everything to do with lining pockets. And one last thing...within the next decade, vehicles will have the technology and ability to run completely on autopilot. That is, no driver necessary. It's a proven technology that has millions of miles of test data already. Why do we need public transportation systems that include rail and enormous expense that have huge restrictions on where passengers can be transported (like along the rail lines) when you can have transportation vehicles pick you up where you want to be picked up and deliver you where you want to be delivered? Why not utilize this as an opportunity to take our transportation to the next level, and expand on this technology that would be much more economical and efficient because it can easily capitalize on the existing roadways and infrastructure already in place and place Atlanta well ahead of the rest of the world on transportation? The reason is, there is no incentive on government employees to do or recommend any solution that will ultimately eliminate the need for their services as if they provide any useful services anyway.

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WeymanCWannamakerJr 1 year, 1 month ago

I will be there, if for no other reason to send a signal to the people that I DO vote for. With the exception of Sen. Renee Unterman, the local legislators have remained in lock step with the party line on HOT lanes. The GDOT officials have yet to convince me that they send anyone that has any hearing to their public hearings.

Just to hear myself I suppose I will be asking one question: If it costs more money to run them as toll lanes than they take in tolls why not just widen the damn road?

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Karl 1 year, 1 month ago

From Weyman: "If it costs more money to run them as toll lanes than they take in tolls why not just widen the damn road?"

Excellent question. I hope you receive an answer to it.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

Karl, Weyman-

The reason why they don't just simply widen the road is because the Georgia Department of Transportation now subscribes very-heavily to the theory of "INDUCED DEMAND" that has been and is being pushed increasingly heavily by the environmental/pro-transit/anti-automobile forces that have gained more and more political clout after each high-profile failure of road-expansion proposals put forth by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

"Induced Demand" is the theory that adding new lanes to a roadway causes the roadway to attract even more new traffic than the roadway would have attracted had the new lanes not been added to the lanes otherwise.

In other words, it's a theory that adding new lanes to a roadway increases traffic more than adding no lanes.

It has been the high-profile failures of road-expansion proposals like the erstwhile I-485/Stone Mountain Freeway and I-675 expansion through Intown East Atlanta, the Outer Perimeter, the Northern Arc, the original I-75/I-575 NW HOT Lane project, tolled expressway tunnels under Intown East Atlanta, a revived Northern Arc further north out from the city, and last year's T-SPLOST that have given anti-road/pro-transit factions like the Sierra Club an outsized level of political clout in what is otherwise a very politically-conservative state in Georgia.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

Another reason why the state just simply doesn't widen I-85 from I-285 to GA 316 is because, in addition to the theory of "induced demand" that the state & GDOT subscribe increasingly very-heavily to, there is very-little, if any, additional right-of-way remaining along the sides of I-85 south of Pleasant Hill Road (with no available right-of-way remaining in many spots between Pleasant Hill Rd and I-285) to even add as little as one new lane in each direction of I-85 between I-285 and GA 316.

In many spots between I-285 and Pleasant Hill Road, adding a new lane of traffic in each direction of I-85 would require the use of eminent domain on many commercial properties that produce much tax revenue for the Gwinnett County government.

It is because of the potential destruction of many tax revenue-producing commercial properties through eminent domain that the Gwinnett County government objects to a potential widening of I-85 to add a new untolled lane in each direction, which is why we are unlikely to see any new untolled lanes added to I-85 south of Pleasant Hill Road.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

Also, because there is virtually no available right-of-way remaining between Pleasant Hill Road and I-285 to widen I-85 the traditional way horizontally, the only way that section of I-85 could conceivably be expanded is vertically with new lanes (preferably truck-only lanes to accommodate the increasing volumes of freight truck traffic instead of HOT Lanes) built in the form of a separate roadway elevated over the median of the existing 12-14 lane roadway.

But attempting to build a new elevated roadway (either for truck-only lanes, HOT Lanes or new untolled lanes) over the existing roadway would be extremely-costly and likely very-controversial politically (like was the recent proposal to add up to 10 new lanes to I-75 through Cobb County that GDOT had to back away from).

Not only that, but the Feds and the very-powerful real estate development and spectulation community is behind the political push to add as few untolled lanes as possible as a way of forcing Metro Atlantans (especially those who live outside of I-285) to use transit in much-heavier numbers over the long-term.

The Feds want tolled lanes and congestion pricing as a way of pushing transit-averse Metro Atlantans onto buses and trains and as a way of clearing Metro Atlanta and North Georgia interstates of excess SOV (single-occupant vehicle/1-2 occupant vehicles) traffic and making way for increasing volumes of through traffic (especially increasingly heavy freight truck traffic on Interstates 75, 85, 285 West and 20 West).

Real Estate developers want tolled lanes and congestion pricing because their next frontier of spectulative land development in the 21st Century will be around rail transit lines and rail transit stations as opposed to the freeway interchanges that drove spectulative land development (such as shopping malls and the accompanying commercial, industrial and residential development) in the late 20th Century/post-World War II-era.

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Mack711 1 year, 1 month ago

Some are of the opinion that this is a dog and pony show. Just look what happened last time when this issue came up. We all went out to say NO but it was done any way. Agree we need a third lane, but not this way. You are telling the citizens that we will pay for it once then charge a toll to pay to make us pay for it twice. We do not know if it is a done deal but 'backroom politics' says that it is. At least Gena Evans will not be there.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

Those that say that this is a dog-and-pony show are right.

Though, considering that all of the funding for the current I-85 HOT Lanes came from the federal government and that there is no federal funding this time around with all of the funding for the extension of the HOT Lanes to Hamilton Mill Rd being proposed to come from the increasingly meager revenues of a state gas tax that by law has to be split evenly between Georgia's 13 Congressional Districts (meaning that sparcely-populated congressional districts in the rural part of the state with very-little or no traffic congestion are supposed to get the exact same amount of transportation funding from the state's gas tax as heavily-populated, overcrowded and heavily-congested congressional districts in Metro Atlanta) and is also supposedly to be used to finance high-profile, high-dollar transportation projects on I-75 in Cobb County (the $1.2 billion I-75/I-575 Northwest Corridor HOT Lane project in Cobb and Cherokee counties), at I-285 & GA 400 (a roughly $500 million reconstruction of the GA 400/I-285 interchange...with no revenues to pay for it after the tolls come off of GA 400) and on I-75 in Henry County (the roughly $200 million+ "I-75 Express" HOT Lane project which is only but the first section of a proposed $1 billion+ HOT Lane implementation project between I-285 and GA 16 near Jackson, GA), chances are that this is a largely-unfunded dog-and-pony show that is only being trotted out to enhance the re-election chances of one Governor Nathan Deal in 2014.

Governor Deal appears to be using the proposal to extend the I-85 HOT Lanes in the form of new capacity up to I-985 and Hamilton Mill Rd as a way to attempt to appeal to the voters that play a major role in deciding statewide elections in the politically-powerful areas of Central and South Hall County (hence the proposed addition of new lanes to I-985) and Northeast Gwinnett (hence the proposed addition of new lanes to Hamilton Mill Rd as an attempt to appeal to financially and politically-influential voters in affluent areas like Hamilton Mill and Chateau Elan, etc).

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

The places where Governor Deal has recently put a major theoretical emphasis on transportation projects (the I-75/I-575 NW Corridor in Cobb and Cherokee counties, the GA 400 North Corridor in North Fulton and Forsyth counties, I-85 Northeast in Gwinnett/Hall counties, and the I-75 South Corridor in Henry County) are each places (counties) in Metro Atlanta that play a very-heavy role in statewide elections, especially within the Republican primaries that decide statewide elections these days.

It was powerful mega-suburban Gwinnett County that helped Nathan Deal win the 2010 Republican Primary despite losing the politically-crucial and heavily-populated Metro Atlanta suburban counties of Cobb, Fulton, Forsyth, Cherokee, Paulding, Fayette and Coweta to Karen Handel in the runoff.

Gwinnett County (along with Cobb, North Fulton, Forsyth, Cherokee and Paulding counties) is critical to the re-election prospects of Nathan Deal, hence the rolling-out of what appears to be a largely-unfunded proposal to add new HOT Lanes to the I-85 roadway between Old P'tree and Hamilton Mill to appear to the voters that he will need to win should he find himself suddenly seriously-challenged in 2014 (right now, Deal has no challengers on either the Republican or Democrat sides).

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JimmyOrr 1 year, 1 month ago

Mack711, you are absolutely correct. Gena will not be there. However, type in http://www.georgiatolls.com/about/leadership as this will (or should) take you to the State Road and Tollway Authority website. Click on Programs and Projects and see what awaits us in the future. How about a toll lane for semi-tractor traliers? Like the late, great Al Jolson is alleged to have said following his first song when he was coaxed into coming back on stage following retirement, "You ain't seen nothing yet." Selah

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

{{"How about a toll lane for semi-tractor traliers?"}}

Actually, toll lanes for semi-tractor trailers was originally going to be a big part of the state's traffic management plans but the very-powerful trucking lobby, which carries more political clout in Georgia than it does in most other states because of Atlanta's status as a major continental trucking hub, made sure that the Georgia Department of Transportation's plans for truck toll lanes (mainly on I-75 N & S, I-20 W and I-285 W) were quickly-eliminated.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

Here is a look at some of the original plans for the proposed I-75/I-575 Northwest BRT/HOV project that would have included adding 2 tolled truck-only lanes and 2 tolled HOV/Bus Rapid Transit lanes on each direction of I-75 North outside of I-285. http://www.nwhovbrt.com/media/pdfs/CncptLO/TypSects.pdf http://www.nwhovbrt.com/media/pdfs/CncptLO/MAIN_OPTION_3b.pdf http://www.nwhovbrt.com/index.htm

The plan was quickly abandoned by GDOT after the public became widely aware of the project because the widening of I-75 to between 20-26 lanes between I-575 and I-285 would have destroyed much existing commercial and industrial development along the path of the project which would have also negatively-affected a very-large part of the property tax digest and property tax revenues of Cobb County.

The public outcry against the original plans to widen I-75 to as many as 26 lanes is the reason why the I-75/I-575 HOT Lane project was renamed the "I-75/I-575 Northwest Corridor" and scaled way back from 10 new lanes being added to the roadway to only two reversible lanes being added to the I-75 roadway between I-575 and I-285. http://www.nwcproject.com/

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

As for your assertion that the commuting public "ain't seen nothing yet", you are very correct, sir.

Before the severe backlash over the bungled startup of the highly-flawed I-85 HOT Lanes, the Georgia Department had plans to implement a very-large and nearly all-encompassing network of HOT Lanes across all of Metro Atlanta, many parts of which would convert both existing untolled HOV-2 lanes and general-purpose lanes to HOT Lanes.

The plans to implement HOT Lanes on almost every stretch of freeway in Metro Atlanta were de-emphasized after the unpopular startup of the I-85 HOT Lanes but they still exist. http://www.dot.ga.gov/informationcenter/programs/studies/managedlanes/Documents/FINALREPORT.pdf

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R 1 year ago

So to quickly sum up, the Hot Lane programs are like obedient zombies - or perhaps vampires, just waiting for the darkness to rise once more.

(Preferably when the vocal few are otherwise distracted...)

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

You got it! The HOT lane programs are just like zombies and when they rise they will rise with a vengeance, with congestion pricing being imposed on ALL LANES of the freeway system within the next couple-of-decades as a way of forcing Metro Atlantans to carpool and use transit in very-heavy numbers.

Basically, the Feds plans are to make Metro Atlanta into the next Boston or Chicago in terms of transit usage over the long-term.

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BuzzG 1 year, 1 month ago

They don't give a hoot what any one thinks. This is all dog and pony show. They will do what they want any way.

"When people fear government, you have tyranny." When the government fears the people, you have democracy." Anonymous.

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WeymanCWannamakerJr 1 year, 1 month ago

Apathy will help foment your tyranny as well. I will be attending, but more importantly will be letting my legislators know why I went. I am paying attention to their action and/or inaction while letting Gena's HOT Lane Follies continue and I will remember it in the voting booth. Especially if they allow this madness to propagate.

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MichelleCouch 1 year, 1 month ago

GDOT holds PIOH (Public Information Open House) meetings because they are required to do so ( and for that reason only most likely. I believe the reality of it is that GDOT pretty much has as much authority to do exactly what they want to do, despite public desire and outcry. If they want to build a highway through the middle of your neighborhood, I don't think there is much stopping them.

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ACC12_SEC13Booster 1 year ago

Using the Intown Atlanta "Freeway Revolts" of the 1960's and '70's against the construction of the now-abandoned I-485 and the extension of I-675 through East Atlanta to what is now GA 400, the abandonment of the proposed Outer Perimeter and the Northern Arc a decade ago, plans to build $30 billion worth of tunnels under Intown East Atlanta, the very-public rejection of T-SPLOST and the ongoing saga of the long-delayed ill-advised Hwy 411 Connector outside of Cartersville in Northwest Georgia as examples, GDOT has been stopped by the public before from proceeding with very-unpopular projects and they can and WILL be stopped again.

Though, it should be noted that the real impetus behind these HOT lane projects in Metro Atlanta is not necessarily GDOT, but the Federal government.

The Feds are using the I-85 HOT lanes as a demo project for a much-larger system of congestion tolling on ALL LANES of the freeway system as a means of forcing Metro Atlantans to use a mode of transportation in bus and rail transit lines that they have not necessarily wanted to use or been too high on in the past.

As everyone is probably well aware of by now, the I-85 HOT Lanes are absolutely NOT about "congestion reduction" or even about generating revenue, the I-85 HOT Lanes are about forcing traditionally transit-averse Metro Atlantans (especially those who live outside I-285) to eventually use transit in substantially higher numbers that are on par with other major American cities like Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, etc.

From the March 5, 2013 entry of the conservative-leaning Reason Foundation's "Out-of-Control Policy Blog": {{"Second, one of the major goals of the project was to improve transit since Atlanta has some of the lowest transit use of any major metro area in the country."}} http://reason.org/blog/show/atlanta-journal-constitution-i-5-ho

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LilburnsFuture 1 year ago

I'll continue the stance I have said before. There should be a toll that extends completely as it does Ga 400. Everyone should be involved. Ga 400 on average moves or crawls more quickly than I-85 during peak periods. Simply by observation, one can tell that all roads are used and there is no all lanes full but the HOT lane effect that goes on. Lastly, when it comes to safety, can you imagine how many lanes one has to cross to reach your exit? HOT lanes may be effective in terms of revenue generation. However, after all is said and done, is it any safer?

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kevin 1 year ago

If any of you read last weeks article about how the present "pay-lane" has taken in over $5 million in since it started vs. a cost of over $100 million. Easy math puts this present toll lane at about 20+ yrs to break even, not counting the annual cost to operate it. What a lousy job of economics from the group that sold everyone on that toll lane. The same thing will go for this "new" plan to extend the toll lane to Hamilton Mill. Don't you believe for one minute that your input is going to change the minds of these "people" from making this stretch a toll lane as well. Nice plan for the us public considering we already paid for this road with our tax money and now they are going to make us pay again to use one of the lanes. What a joke! And people have fallen for this again. Twice a mistake and the joke is on you.

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Don_Coyote 1 year ago

Actually, if you read this article you see that the I-85 lanes have "taken in over $5 million" in 16 months with expenditures of $7.8 million in 12 months. This translates to a $4 million per year loss. This means the payoff on the original lane conversion costs is not 20+ years, it is NEVER. They stated in the beginning that HOT lanes were to be revenue neutral and only paying their cost of administration. Unlike traditional toll roads they do not pay off their construction debt but get paid for out of the motor fuel tax monies from us all. What we are seeing in actual practice is that the longer they are run like this the more money, we, the taxpayers, lose.

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R 1 year ago

Just for fun - do these figures really breakout from GA 400 Peach Pass traffic? That was something they claimed couldn't be done earlier so has this been corrected? Can we see paid vs free govt uses yet?

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