Toll lane expansion starts in northwest Atlanta

The $834 million Northwest Corridor project requiring toll lane expansion started it’s toll network in northwest Atlanta, according to a July 12 article by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The project, which is 40 percent of Georgia’s Department of Transportation (GDOT) annual budget, is the cause for toll lanes expansion in Atlanta because other construction projects in Atlanta would have to be delayed otherwise, according to Brantley.

Deputy Executive Director of State Road and Tollway Authority Bert Brantley said there is one express lane project in operation and three more underway, with completion dates by 2018.

Brantley said toll prices will rise and fall along with congestion levels so the prices will be lower in the morning and increase as rush hour picks up.

“If the price stayed low, too many cars would use the lanes and they would be just as congested as the regular lanes and if the price is too high, not enough cars will use the lanes,” Brantley said. “The dynamic pricing algorithm is set to raise and lower the price to get the most cars moving through the lanes as possible without there being too many and slowing the lanes down.”

Brantley said toll revenues will be used to pay for operating lanes and paying down the debt incurred from constructing the lanes. It will also fund maintenance, repaving lanes and repairing and replacing toll equipment, signs, lighting and other infrastructure used in operating the lanes, according to Brantley.

Brantley said the toll lane expansion will benefit Atlanta commuters.

“First, the lanes will provide a reliable option when a driver really needs it,” Brantley said. “Second, the lanes encourage transit usage by providing an efficient trip at a fraction of the cost to operate your own vehicle and, over the long term, if the lanes are successful funds will be raised that can be used to continue to make transportation improvements in the Metro Atlanta region.”

Currently, the I-85 express lane project that opened in 2011 is set for extending another 10 miles up to Hamilton Mill Road by July 2018 due to its success, according to Brantley.

“When the project first opened, about 7,000 cars a day used the lanes,” Brantley said. “Today, more than 23,000 vehicles use the lanes every weekday.”

There is also another construction project in the works.

“The 12-mile I-75 South Metro Express Lanes project in Henry County will be the first newly constructed lanes to open, currently scheduled for January 2017,” Brantley said.

Brantley said toll lanes will be used as long as they provide a reliable trip time to those who use them.

GDOT is also working on a Managed Lane Implementation Plan, which analyzes the possibility of creating a managed lane network on all major interstate commuting corridors in Atlanta, according to Brantley.

Managed lanes utilize vehicle accessibility, eligibility and pricing to manage the volume of traffic in a lane, according to the Atlanta Regional. Managed lanes will help monitor traffic after the new lanes open.

Georgia State film and video student Corbin Tessmer said he thinks the toll lane expansion is a brilliant idea in writing, but not in reality.

“I feel like it will end up being like the Peach Pass lane, which isn’t used as much as it was expected to,” Tessmer said. “This is because they charge like $10 just to use it, and I personally rather sit in traffic than pay $10 everyday to get to school/work and $10 to get back.”

The Peach Pass is an electronic toll collection device that can be stuck to a car and automatically deduct toll expenses while using 1-85’s electronic toll lanes, according to Peach Pass.

Brantley said the new toll lanes will all be accessible using the Peach Pass.

Brantley said he anticipates that the new managed lanes projects around Metro Atlanta will be under construction as GDOT continues to build an entire managed lane network for the region.