DULUTH -- Jeff Jarrett took a walk on his Buford-area property Thursday morning and heard the air brakes lock on tractor-trailers on Interstate 85 nearby.
"It was bumper-to-bumper at 10:30 this morning," he said that evening, at a public hearing transportation held about a potential solution to the problem: a $95 million project to add a lane of capacity on each side of the interstate from Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road.
The catch, he noted, is that the lanes would be an extension to the current 16-mile high-occupancy toll lane system on the highway.
"That's a waste of money," Jarrett said, not convinced that drivers would pay a variable-rate toll in the so-called "Lexus lanes."
Besides, he said, that stretch of highway needs more than one lane that only a handful of drivers would use.
"One lane ain't gonna get it," he said. "This ain't gonna do a thing to alleviate traffic."
The crowd was light at Thursday's open house on the project, but Jann Moore made sure to cross the parking lot from her job at the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce to the Gwinnett Center for the meeting.
"The fact that this is going to be a new lane is going to relieve traffic," said Moore, who said the issue is personal since she drives every day from Braselton to Duluth, and sometimes into Atlanta.
"You don't have to use it every day. It's optional for those who really need it," Moore said, adding that at times she thinks the cost of the toll would be worth getting home a little earlier. "I think it's great. ... It's a user fee. Everybody likes those."
Eighteen months ago, officials opened the express lane project on I-85, converting a carpool lane in an attempt to create a reliable trip time. The price of the toll varies to create a 45 mph trip as much as possible for people who choose to pay.
Over time, the price of the toll has increased, with peaks at $6.50 for the entire 16-mile trip.
Winder resident Tom Greenlee said the system isn't fair.
"I think the state's stealing our money," said Greenlee, who has yet to pay the toll despite a daily commute to Buckhead. "I don't think I should have to. My federal tax dollars paid for the current pavement."
Greenlee said his commute time has increase since the tolls began, and he knows of people who have stopped carpooling since the "free" passage in the lane has increased from two per car to three. He called the system discriminatory.
"It's not working. It's not relieving congestion," he said, adding that he believes the state gas tax dollars earmarked for the extension project would be better spent on a fix to the interchange with I-285 or an extension of MARTA rail lines into Gwinnett.
"It's strictly about raising money for the state," he said. "I don't mind them raising money, but they are doing it at the expense of my time, which costs me money."
With another public information set for 4 to 7 p.m. next Thursday at Braselton's Municipal and Court Building, officials said many details have not been determined for the project, including the location of access points for the lanes.
If it moves forward, another set of open houses will be held next year before construction begins, officials said. The lanes could open in 2017.