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More public input sought on changes planned for I-85 car-pool lanes
A second round of public hearings is set for June 23, 25 and 27 on the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to convert the HOV lane to high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 85, starting at Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

The Georgia Department of Transportation has set a second round of public hearings on plans to allow solo commuters to ride — for a fee — in Interstate 85 car-pool lanes in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.

The hearings are scheduled for 5-8 p.m. June 23 at Ashiana’s Banquet Room inside the Global Mall on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, 5-8 p.m. June 25 at the Gwinnett Civic Center on Sugarloaf Parkway and 3-6 p.m. June 27 near Nordstrom in the Mall of Georgia, Buford.

The DOT is looking at a system so that the high-occupancy vehicle lane from Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County to Chamblee-Tucker Road in DeKalb County, a 14.3-mile stretch, also would serve as a "high-occupancy toll" lane.

Basically, carpoolers could travel the stretch for free — nothing would change for them — but motorists traveling alone would pay a fee based on the amount of traffic filling the lane, DOT officials have said.

The toll collected from commuters would be used to operate and maintain the lane and the system, Teri Pope, a spokeswoman for the department, has said.

Technology, not concrete and asphalt, would dominate the project, funded by a $110 million Federal Highway Administration grant.

The grant also would be used for research, public outreach efforts (such as the community meetings) and the installation of the system, Pope said.

"The way we could (charge the fees) ... is you will be able to go and get a piece of equipment that will go into your vehicle, and you will set up an account and be charged as you enter the lane," she said.

The equipment will display the cost so the driver can decide whether to go into the lane, she added.

"There will be additional cameras ... to monitor and help enforce the use of the lanes," Pope said. "...There will be no change to the roadway itself."

Some 300 people attended five open house meetings in March and April on the project, Pope said.

Comments varied from extreme support to "some very descriptive ways to say ‘no,’" she added. Some people "thought you cannot use the lane at all without paying the toll."

"When we explained ... that if they (ride with someone else) they can still use the lane for free, most seemed not opposed to it anymore."

DOT officials also clarified for some people that the grant can’t "be used on any project other than this," Pope said.

"One reason we got the grant was ... there isn’t another project like this in the Southeast," she added, "and we are expecting this (new concept) to really help congestion."

Pope said the DOT plans to hold a final round of public meetings late this summer. She didn’t have those dates available.