I-85 express lanes file photo

In this file photo, cars travel in the toll lanes while the southbound traffic on Interstate 85 is backed up during a morning rush hour. The State Road and Tollway Authority marked the 10th anniversary of the opening of the I-85 Express Lanes on Friday.

A decade ago, Georgia officials stirred controversy by opening Express Lanes that drivers had to pay to use on Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County.

The state has expanded its use of the toll lanes since then, building new lanes on the southside of Atlanta and along Interstate 75 north in Cobb and Cherokee counties as well as building an extension of the lanes in Gwinnett.

And, now the State Road and Tollway Authority is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of those lanes and the launch of Peach Pass, the transponder drivers use to pay tolls and access those lanes.

“We are thrilled to be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the I-85 Express Lanes and Peach Pass,” SRTA Executive Director Chris Tomlinson said. “Since 2011, we have seen unprecedented growth with our tolling program, not only on I-85, but also with its extension, the 75 South Metro Express Lanes and the Northwest Corridor Express Toll Lanes.”

Friday marked the official 10th anniversary of the opening of the original Express Lanes.

The initial Express Lanes that opened on I-85 between Chamblee-Tucker Road and Old Peachtree Road a decade ago used existing lanes on the interstate as part of a $110 Congestion Reduction Demonstration grant that the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded for use in the Atlanta region.

The use of existing lanes prompted a backlash from the public, but all of the lanes added since then — including the extension of the I-85 lanes between Old Peachtree and Hamilton Mill roads — were newly built lanes.

The state issued 100,000 Peach Passes and drivers made 159,000 unique trips in the first month alone. Over the course of a decade, drivers have made more than 74 million trips on the I-85 Express Lanes alone.

Across all three stretches of Express Lanes in metro Atlanta, however, drivers made 21 million trips in the lanes in just 2020. The state is now building additional Express Lanes along Interstate 285 on the north side of metro Atlanta.

But, that’s not the only signs of future expansion for the Peach Pass program.

The Peach Pass Plus Program was launched this summer in partnership with Hartsfield Jackson International Airport. The program lets Peach Pass customers use their transponder, as well as the credit card they linked with their account, to pay for parking at the new 5,700-spot ATL West Parking Deck at the airport.

And, then there is the planned partnership with E-Z Pass, which would enable Peach Pass customers to use their transponders to pay tolls in 19 states that use E-Z Pass. Drivers who have Peach Passes can already use them in North Carolina and Florida through partnerships Georgia officials have reached with their toll authority counterparts in those states.

The partnership with E-Z Pass is expected to go into effect sometime next year.

“None of this would have been possible without the loyal support of our Peach Pass customers and our team of dedicated professionals committed to public service,” Tomlinson said. “We will continue our commitment to providing mobility options and services that meets their needs over the next 10 years, including expanding our Peach Pass footprint into the future with our partnership with E-ZPass in 2022.”

I'm a Crawford Long baby who grew up in Marietta and eventually wandered to the University of Southern Mississippi for college. Earned a BA in journalism (double minor in political science and history). Previously worked in Florida and Clayton County.

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