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State looks into HOV toll on I-85

POSTED: March 21, 2009 11:05 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Public hearings are set in the next few weeks on the Georgia Department of Transportation's plans to convert the HOV lane to high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 85, starting at Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County.

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Commuters with deep pockets may someday get a ticket to ride in the high-occupancy vehicle lane on Interstate 85.

The Georgia Department of Transportation is looking at a system so that the HOV lane from Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County to Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County also would serve as a “high-occupancy toll” lane.

Basically, carpoolers could travel the 14.3-mile stretch for free — nothing would change for them — but motorists traveling solo could join the lane for a fee.

And the fee would vary according to the amount of traffic filling the lane, said Teri Pope, a spokeswoman for the department.

In other words, get ready to pay if you want to drive in the HOV lane during rush hour.

The toll collected from commuters would be used to operate and maintain the lane and the system, Pope said.

The DOT and the Atlanta Regional Commission have scheduled public information meetings on the project, beginning Thursday night at the Gwinnett Civic Center in Duluth.

Other hearings are set for March 31, April 2 and April 4 in Gwinnett and DeKalb.

Residents will be able to ask DOT and ARC officials questions about the project. Also, officials with the Georgia Regional Transit Authority will be available to discuss issues concerning transit services on the corridor.

No formal presentation is planned.

The displays at the open house also will be available at the DOT’s District 1 office at 2505 Athens Highway in East Hall, Pope said.

Technology, not concrete and asphalt, would dominate the project, funded by a $110 million Federal Highway Administration grant.

The grant also would be used for research, public outreach efforts (such as the community meetings) and the installation of the system, Pope said.

“The way we could (charge the fees) ... is you will be able to go and get a piece of equipment that will go into your vehicle, and you will set up an account and be charged as you enter the lane,” Pope said.

The equipment will display the cost so the driver can decide whether to go into the lane, she added.

“There will be additional cameras ... to monitor and help enforce the use of the lanes,” Pope said. “...There will be no change to the roadway itself.”

Margie Lewis of Braselton said she doesn’t support the plan.

“To me, what’s the incentive of carpooling if you could just pay to ride in that lane?” said Lewis.

She and husband Joe operate a wallpaper business and have customers in south Atlanta, where they used to live.

As it is, the HOV lane can get pretty busy.

“And you have to be careful riding in it, because sometimes people will pull in and out of it,” Lewis said.

Pope said the public meetings should show whether the project is “viable and would be supported in this area.”

She said she didn’t know whether the project would be pursued even if it draws massive opposition.

“For a road project, yes, definitely, public input has stopped, started and delayed (work), but because this is a federal grant, we’re still walking through the process,” Pope said.

Residents don’t have to attend one of the meetings to voice their opinion.

Comments can be submitted in writing until April 16. The address is: I-85 HOV to HOT Project Comments, 1718 Peachtree Street NW, Suite 400, Atlanta, GA 30309.



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