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High occupancy toll lanes may creep toward Hall
Addition would call for new bridge over Interstate 985
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HOT lanes meetings
What: Learn more about a proposed extension of high occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 85 in North Gwinnett

When: 5-7 p.m. Sept. 29
Where: Gwinnett Center Atrium Gallery, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth

When: 5–7 p.m. Oct. 2
Where: Braselton Police and Municipal Court Building, 5040 Ga. 53, Braselton

The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to hold open house meetings on a project that would bring high occupancy toll lanes closer to Hall County.

Meetings are set for Sept. 29 in Duluth and Oct. 2 in Braselton on plans to extend the HOT lane system, also known as Express Lanes, up Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County from Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road.

Unlike the existing HOT lanes on I-85, the new Express Lanes would involve building new lanes, rather than converting existing high occupancy vehicle lanes.

The current lanes, one in the northbound lanes and one southbound, run between Old Peachtree Road and Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County.

The 10-mile extension also calls for a new bridge to be built over Interstate 985, which runs to Gainesville.

Teri Pope, DOT district spokeswoman, has said “Express Lanes bridges are just bridges with a specified use” and there’s “nothing special about their design or construction.”

Two such bridges are part of the current lanes.

“The managed lanes in Gwinnett County, which would be part of a larger Express Lanes system throughout metro Atlanta, are intended to help manage congestion and improve mobility along the corridor,” according to the DOT.

And like the current lanes, the new ones “will be tolled on a dynamic pricing system, meaning that when congestion and demand for a free-flowing ride is heaviest, the tolls will be higher.”

At the meetings, area residents and commuters will be able to view area maps and displays, as well as provide comments and discuss the project with DOT staff, District Engineer Brent Cook said.

The same information will be presented at both events, and “there will be no formal presentation,” Cook said.

All comments will be considered in the development of the final project design and must be received by Oct. 13, officials said.

After the open house, residents can view the project displays at the DOT district office at 2505 Athens Highway, Gainesville.

Express Lanes enable drivers who have a “Peach Pass” sticker, or transponder, fixed to their windshield to travel without the congestion of other lanes but for a toll based on the level of traffic snarl.

Fees are waived for those driving motorcycles, alternative-fuel cars with proper license plates and vehicles carrying three or more people.

The state opened the lanes in October 2011.

They were met with protests at first as motorists were discouraged by high rates, resulting in more congestion on I-85. But after the rate was dropped, at the order of Gov. Nathan Deal, ridership in the lanes increased.

Monthly trip totals have increased to 575,299 last month from 429,964 in August 2012, according to the State Road and Tollway Authority, which operates the lanes.

The extension “reflects the growth that is being experienced in northern Gwinnett County, as well as south Hall and western Jackson County,” said Richard Fangmann, director of transportation planning for Norcross-based Pond & Co., which is developing a long-term transportation plan for Hall County.

The plan projects to 2040, when Hall’s population is expected to double.

“I-985 is one of the key corridors that is predicted to be congested by that time, and the plan is considering options for improving that corridor,” Fangmann said.

In addition to the I-85 Express Lanes, contracts have been issued for design and construction of the Interstate 75 South Metro Express Lanes in Henry and Clayton counties and the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties, said Adrian B. Carver, spokeswoman for the State Road and Tollway Authority.

Studies are ongoing to determine the feasibility of adding Express Lanes on Ga. 400 north of Interstate 285 and on the top end of I-285, she said.

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