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I-85 Express Lanes open today
Addition allows commuters to pay toll, bypass some traffic
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Interstate 85 Express Lanes are set to open today. They are a conversion of the high-occupancy vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes from Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County to Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Interstate 85 Express Lanes

What: A toll-based lane for commuters, with fees waived for motorcyclists, alternative-fuel cars and vehicles carrying three or more people
Where: Interstate 85, between Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County and Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County
When: Opens today
Toll: 10-90 cents per mile, depending on congestion
To open a Peach Pass account: Visit a customer service center on the ground floor of 47 Trinity Ave. SW, Atlanta, or go online at www.PeachPass.com. Also, motorists can call 855-724-7277.
Fines: $25 per violation, plus the toll amount.

Haven't gotten your Peach Pass yet? Better jump on the task — Interstate 85's new Express Lanes open today.

The conversion of high-occupancy vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes from Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County to Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County "will represent a new era in transportation innovation," said Gena L. Evans, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority.

"This all-electronic commuting choice (provides) ... a more reliable travel option," she said. "The Express Lanes concept has been proven successful in eight other cities, and we are excited about its ability to positively impact I-85 traffic and keep metro Atlantans moving."

Under the new system, cars with three or more people will be able to travel in the Express Lanes for free, as was the case with the HOV lane. People driving solo or with one other passenger will be able to drive in the lane for a toll that's based on the level of I-85 congestion at the time.

All users, however, will have to get a Peach Pass, a thin electronic sticker, or transponder, that sticks to the vehicle's windshield.

Commuters can set up a "toll-exempt account" if they believe they will only drive a motorcycle or an alternative-fuel vehicle with a car tag designating the vehicle as such in the Express Lanes, or if they plan to only drive in the lanes with two or more other passengers.

Otherwise, commuters will need to set up a "personal toll account," keeping enough money in it to cover tolls and other charges from using the Peach Pass. The cost to use the lanes will range from 10 cents to 90 cents per mile.

Adrian B. Carver, spokeswoman for the State Road and Tollway Authority, said the agency encourages commuters to set up a personal toll account, just in case motorists traveling alone or with one other person are tempted to get into the lane.

Department of Public Safety officers will watch for violators, but the Express Lanes also feature video cameras and other technology to ensure legal use of the lanes.

The fine is $25, plus the toll cost.

"If a driver is pulled over by law enforcement for an Express Lanes violation, an additional citation may be issued," according to the SRTA website.

Motorists unfamiliar with Express Lanes, such as those traveling from out of state, still will have to abide by Express Lane rules.

"There is plenty of signage that indicates that it is a registered lane and that you have to have a Peach Pass to access it, before the lanes begin on either end," Carver said.

The 15-mile Express Lanes are part of a $110 million U.S. Department of Transportation Congestion Reduction Demonstration grant Georgia received in 2008.

"We will be evaluating a variety of aspects of the project as we go along," Carver said. "We want to look at the impact of it and several elements related to that."

Teri Pope, spokeswoman in the Georgia Department of Transportation's Gainesville office, said, "This is the first time we've done anything like this in Atlanta, so we're not really sure what to expect."

She added: "We cannot continue to widen and widen our interstates. We don't have the money and it would be extremely difficult to ever get caught up with the need that we have.

"So, using the existing asphalt, this is an out-of-the-box way to look at giving (motorists) an option ... they don't currently have."

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