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.