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State may alter I-85 HOV lanes

POSTED: March 26, 2009 11:30 p.m.

DULUTH — In two years, the high occupancy lane on Interstate 85 may legally be open to all drivers, not just carpoolers.

During Thursday’s open house, the Georgia Department of Transportation unveiled plans for a project that would convert a portion of the road from a high occupancy vehicle lane to a high occupancy toll lane.

The proposed project would affect the HOV lane on I-85 between Old Peachtree Road, Exit 109, in Gwinnett County, to Chamblee Tucker Road, Exit 94, in DeKalb County.

According to state Department of Transportation staff, the project is expected to cost about $147 million. A portion of the costs, $111 million, would be covered by a federal grant. The rest of the money would come from matching local and state funds.

"The goal is to open the HOT lane in 2011," said Cherie Gibson, director of communications for the State Road and Tollway Authority.

Although the conversion of the travel lane wouldn’t include many physical changes, it would require that drivers become used to a new definition of "high occupancy." Currently the HOV lane is open to vehicles with two or more occupants, the HOT lanes mainly will be for vehicles with three or more occupants.

Vehicles with three or more occupants can use the lane for free. Vehicles with fewer than three occupants would be subjected to a variable toll.

The price of the toll still is being decided, but it would vary depending the time of day and level of use.

Instead of installing toll booths, video tolling enforcement
equipment will be installed to monitor the use of the lanes, in addition to patrols by local law enforcement officials.

Electronic readers called transponders, similar to the Cruise Card technology on Ga. 400, will be used to deduct the toll from an account that users set up.

"The specific equipment that drivers will have to install in their vehicles has not been chosen yet, but it will not be very big," said Gibson. "We’re required to make sure that whatever the equipment is, that it not be intrusive."

Electronic signs along the HOT lane will display the cost of the toll, so that drivers can decide if they wish to pay the fee prior to committing to the travel lane.

Use of the other I-85 lanes will remain unchanged and free for all drivers.

Like Ga. 400, the I-85 HOT lane will be operated by the State Road and Tollway Authority, but it will continue to be owned by the state Department of Transportation. Initial toll funds will be used to maintain the HOT lane and to offset the cost of operation and construction; a long-term use for the toll funds has not yet been determined.



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