Georgia’s new pricing plan for toll lanes raises prices, ditches maximum cost

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 rolled out a new pricing plan that includes higher prices for toll roads in the state. (File Photo)

Everything Gwinnett drivers thought they knew about the cost to use the tolled Express Lanes on Interstate 85 is changing this week.

The State Road and Tollway Authority rolled out new a pricing plan for the toll lanes that, among other things, raises the cost of using the lanes and does away with the $13.95 per trip price cap. The new pricing plan, which starts at a 10 cents per mile, was approved by SRTA’s Board of Directors earlier this month and went into effect Monday.

It comes as the state prepares to open the Interstate 75 northwest Express Lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties.

“For the ease of customer use and a consistent customer experience on Georgia Express Lanes, we have established a uniform approach to toll rate pricing,” SRTA Executive Director Chris Tomlinson said earlier this month. “The Northwest Corridor Express Lanes join the I-85 Express Lanes and the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes, as well as future tolled express lane projects in improving the commuting experience of Georgia residents and others who drive in our state.”

The new pricing plan will upend the costs Gwinnett County had gotten used to since the toll lanes on I-85 opened at the beginning of the decade.

Until Sunday, drivers who used the toll lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett paid as little as 1 cent per mile, although the price fluctuates and goes up depending on how many cars are in the lanes. It had originally been 10 cents per mile when it opened in 2011, but it was dropped to a penny the following year.

In a document posted on the Peach Pass website to explain the new prices, officials said prices for using the full 16-mile leg of the existing toll lanes in Gwinnett County often hit the $13.95 per trip cap during rush hour period during the week.

The new plan has prompted speculation that prices could get up as high as $16 to use the 16-mile length of the existing toll lanes on I-85. SRTA did not mention how much a person could end up spending for a full trip in its explanation document on the Peach Pass website.

“Rates greater than the uniform minimum toll rate will be set and managed by SRTA for each Georgia Express Lane, according to the lane’s levels of congestion, individual demand management needs and debt service requirements (if any),” SRTA officials said on the website.

“There is no maximum charge. The maximum charge for the longest trip possible on each toll road is determined based on traffic conditions and level of congestion in the lane.”

The effects of the changes will not only be evident during the day, however.

Another change is new a 50-cent per trip flat rate that will be imposed between midnight and 5 a.m.

The I-85 toll lanes were the first to open in metro Atlanta. When they opened seven years ago, it drew ire from commuters along that corridor who were upset that existing traffic lanes were converted to become Express Lanes.

The lanes were previously high occupancy vehicle lanes which didn’t cost drivers to use, though at least two people had to be in the car. The fact that drivers had to begin paying a toll to use the lanes led to the rise of the term “Lexus Lanes.”

The original 16-mile stretch of toll lanes on I-85 remain the only express lanes that were carved out of existing roadways. The I-75 express lanes north and south of Atlanta, as well as the I-85 extension lanes, are all new lanes that have been built alongside existing roadways.

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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