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HOV lanes to get transformation
Work set for Gwinnett, DeKalb HOT project
Georgia Regional Transit Authority Executive Director Jannine Miller, left, Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance C. Smith Jr., center, and State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Gena Evans unveil new signs as part of the Interstate 85 High Occupancy Vehicle to High Occupancy Toll Conversion Project, also known as the Interstate 85 Express Lanes project Thursday during a construction kickoff event. The event was held at the Park and Ride Lot along Ga. 20 at Interstate 985 in Buford. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

BUFORD - High-occupancy vehicle lanes, a welcome sight for Interstate 85 carpoolers, are about to go through a transformation in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.

Work is set to start this month to convert them to "high-occupancy toll" or express lanes.

Those riding with two or more passengers still will have access when the project is finished as hoped in August.

But solo commuters facing heavy traffic in regular lanes will be able to travel in the express lanes for a fee based on traffic congestion.

The aim is "to give people a better quality of life, so they can reach home sooner with their families, get them to work on time, lower costs and improve productivity," said Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Vance C. Smith Jr.

He, along with the heads of the State Road and Tollway Authority and the Georgia Regional Transit Authority, discussed the project in a press conference at the Park and Ride lot off Ga. 20 and Interstate 985.

"This a demonstration project with the U.S. (Department of Transportation that gave) us this grant," Smith said.
"We'll take the information that's gathered over the next two, four, five years and study that data to make sure this is the right way to go."

The project involves converting 16 miles of the HOV lanes between Chamblee Tucker Road in DeKalb County and Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County to the HOT lanes.

A $110 million Congestion Reduction Demonstration grant is paying for the effort.

The grant, awarded in 2008, also pays for transit improvements, including 36 new buses and the expansion of the Park and Ride lot in Buford.

"We think this is the start of something terrific in metro Atlanta, that this is the first of many projects to come along in the HOT lane area," said Gena Evans, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority.

Those who want to drive in the express lanes must get a "Peach Pass," a toll collection device adhering to a windshield or front bumper.

The pass is connected to an account established with the State Road and Tollway Authority. It automatically deducts amounts when motorists get in the express lanes.

"Once you enter that lane, you are set at the price for the entire trip," Evans said.

Signs will announce prices so motorists can decide whether to enter a lane and the average toll is expected to between $5 and $6.

"If this project does what it is supposed to, it's going to provide reliable commutes at a price that commuters are willing to pay," said Jannine Miller, executive director of the Georgia Regional Transit Authority.