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HOT Lanes making their way closer to Hall
DOT extending I-85 toll lanes to Hamilton Mill Road
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HOT lanes could get a little closer to Hall County.

A project calls for extending the high occupancy toll lanes, or Express Lanes, on Interstate 85 from Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road in Gwinnett, a 10-mile stretch skirting past Interstate 985.

According to a Georgia Department of Transportation fact sheet, public hearings are set for 4-7 p.m. March 21 at the Gwinnett Center, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth; and 4-7 p.m. March 28 at the Braselton Police and Municipal Court Building.

Hall County Planning Director Srikanth Yamala said, reacting to the plans, that “whenever additional options are provided to commuters, the chances of reducing congestion get better, especially during peak hours.”

Express Lanes, now running between Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County and Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County, 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 Express Lanes, or high occupancy toll lanes, in October 2011 to a cool reception.

At first, they were sparingly used, creating even more congestion along I-85. Motorists also criticized them, saying they resented a toll system on a road that’s already paid for.

The clamor quickly reached the ears of Gov. Nathan Deal, who moved to lower the toll rates to encourage more drivers to use the lanes.

However, use picked up as time went by.

Numbers provided by the State Road and Tollway Authority, which operates the lanes, show that average weekday trips had jumped to 16,916 in September 2012 from 7,273 in October 2011. And monthly trips had jumped to 429,964 from 159,799.

The DOT is developing the Express Lane extension “in an effort to provide commuters with a more reliable, free-flow commute option that will complement the state’s multi-modal approach to managing traffic demand,” states the fact sheet.

Unlike the existing HOT Lanes on I-85, the Express Lanes from Old Peachtree to Hamilton Mill Road will involve building new lanes, rather than converting existing high occupancy vehicle, or HOV, lanes.

“This will add new capacity to the corridor while providing options for reliable trip times,” states the DOT.

Future expansion of Express Lanes doesn’t include I-985, which runs between I-85 and Gainesville and serves as a major route for Hall County commuters to metro Atlanta.

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