I-75 toll lanes

Moderated by Tom Sabulis

The Georgia Department of Transportation says the new “price-managed” lanes being built on I-75 in Henry County are an option for commuters that will provide welcome reliability and relief from traffic congestion. But a local highway engineer argues that new free lanes are the best way to go for taxpayers, even if it means raising the gas tax.

Commenting is open below.

New toll lanes can provide reliability

By Toby Carr

How long does it take for you to get home from work? If your answer is, “It depends,” then you are like most commuters in metro Atlanta. We determine the length, in miles, of our daily commutes by choosing where we live. But the length, in time, is too often out of our control because of other commuters, wrecks, stalls and other variables.

Time is a precious and non-renewable resource, and none of us wants to waste it by sitting in traffic. Georgia’s transportation agencies are working together to provide an option to car and transit commuters that will get them out of congestion consistently and reliably: a priced-managed lane.

A priced-managed lane allows for “active management,” using the concept of supply and demand to keep traffic flowing. The I-85 express lanes in Gwinnett County illustrate the concept very well. When first opened, the tolls were too high, and very few vehicles used the lanes. After reducing the price, the lanes provided — and continue to provide — a more reliable option for transit riders at no additional cost and for drivers willing to pay the toll.

Moving forward, managed lanes will be about having new transportation options that are built and managed to be reliable permanently, as they should be. Unlike building another general-purpose lane, these managed lanes will not be choked with the same congestion as the other lanes within a brief time. Projects to add new priced-managed lanes in metro Atlanta in the next few years are being developed in Clayton, Henry, Gwinnett, Cobb and Cherokee counties.

Using pricing, reliability can be put back into your commute. It’s not about making money, it’s about moving people. Specifically, it’s about moving as many vehicles as possible while still maintaining a speed that provides the reliability we crave. If the I-85 project holds true on other corridors, some people will use the priced lanes every day, but most people won’t. Most will use them when they really need to get someplace — a meeting, a ball game or a child at day care. The users of the lane determine the price; we are there to make sure the speed holds up.

What would you do with an extra 27 hours? Georgia’s first newly constructed priced-managed lanes on I-75 in Henry and Clayton counties are projected to give a daily commuter more than a day back each year – without paying a toll. With thousands of vehicles using the toll lanes, that’s thousands less in the existing lanes. And toll lane users will save even more time, but only when they decide their time is worth the cost.

Priced-managed lanes put the power of choice back in the hands of commuters, a choice they simply do not have now.

Toby Carr is director of planning of the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Still the best way: Free lanes for all

By James Eason

When will we wise up about toll roads?

The proposed I-75 project in Henry County would be far more beneficial to the public if tolls were excluded. More drivers would use the new reversible lanes, and there could be more access points.

Under the proposed design, access would be limited to buses, registered van pools, and motorists with Peach Passes or certain similar passes. Others entering the lane would be billed by mail and could find themselves missing their exit because the toll lane does not go there. No trucks would be allowed, and few out-of state travelers will have passes. Thus, most users would be local and either wealthy, extravagant, late for work, or needing to get to a restroom.

Could tolls from such a limited base ever retire the bonds needed to build these lanes? It is far from a sure bet.

While this stretch of I-75 has been severely overloaded for decades, toll lanes are not the answer. The toll design was mandated because the other funding choice, tax money, is as risky politically as the tolling option is risky financially. But compared with what we could build with old-fashioned fuel taxes and federal aid, the toll plan really stinks.

Consider, for instance, the alternative of streamlining the parallel stretch of U.S. 19/41 by means of flyovers at major intersections, roundabouts and improved traffic signals. Reducing trip time between Hampton and I-75 (Exit 235) would give thousands of drivers a faster, more direct route to the city and remove them from the congestion on I-75.

The law that created the interstates in 1956 prohibited tolls, except for some existing turnpikes that were included in the system. That was a different, more fair-minded America not many years removed from the Depression.

It seemed un-American then to base access to a public road on one’s ability to pay extra. We said it was not right to tax some motorists twice, once at the pump and again with a toll. And it was plain foolish to build more costly, less accessible roads and waste part of the revenue on the cost of collection.

Principles and realities did not change; attitudes and perceptions did. It is time to question those changes.

The hard facts are these: If we want more road capacity, we must pay for it somehow. If we want the most and best for our money, we must build free lanes, not access-restricted toll lanes. With adequate revenue, we can also streamline many other arteries, which would substantially reduce interstate traffic.

I am ready to pay my share through a motor fuel tax or any other tax that everybody who uses the roads would pay.

James Eason is a highway engineer who lives in Forest Park.

15 comments Add your comment

Don

May 1st, 2013
2:11 pm

The HOT lanes in Gwinnett DON’T COVER THEIR COST OF OPERATION!

and that’s just for starters….

Let’s not pour good money after bad…

When you REALLY need them is when their is a wreck. Guess where they push the wrecks to most time. Yup, the left hand “shoulder” – which really isn’t a shoulder – it’s only about 4 feet wide and the wrecked vehicle block the HOT lane.

The developing the HOT lanes were a complete waste of money. Worse yet, they lose a >$1M a year over and above the tolls they collect.

Should have saved the money and bought more GRTA buses or started to develop some commuter rail. I know this is hard for the DOT to swallow because they know roads and rail and bus development is not comfortable for them. They’d have to develop relationships with a whole new set of consultants. That’s real work!

Let’s get to it!

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 30th, 2013
4:25 pm

zeke

April 30th, 2013
9:35 am

After seeing what happened to the long-ruling Georgia Democrats after they backed an EXTREMELY-UNPOPULAR Outer Perimeter/Northern Arc road construction proposal and after being in their own precarious political situation after their own unpopular transportation proposal in the T-SPLOST was shot down by an angry public after ignoring growing transportation needs during their decade of political rule, Georgia Republicans wouldn’t dare touch the unpopular Outer Perimeter proposal with a 1,000-foot pole and radioactive suits on for fear of seeing the same thing happen to them that happened to Georgia Dems a decade ago after supporting the Outer Perimeter/Northern Arc.

In the current political climate in which large-scale road expansion is a political impossibility due to severe and intense across-the-board political opposition from left to right, the ONLY way that a second bypass around Atlanta could ever be built is by building a new bypass/loop (preferably for the growing volume of already very-heavy freight truck traffic) directly OVER the current loop/bypass of I-285.

That’s right, building a new truck-only bypass over the current I-285 bypass is likely the only way that a second bypass will ever be built in the highly road expansion-averse metro Atlanta region.

And even that idea may run into fierce political opposition along the Top End stretch of I-285 in and through Sandy Springs where the politically well-connected wealthy landowners in the highly-affluent upscale neighborhoods between the Chattahoochee River and Roswell Road will likely object to the thickly-wooded tree buffers that separate their high-dollar properties from busy I-285 being destroyed to expand the road.

And they will likely be joined in strong protest by a very-strong Intown anti-road pro-transit lobby that would object to billions of dollars being spent on road expansion through a densely-populated area instead of a transit line.

It is because of the fierce opposition to any large-scale road expansion proposals both inside and outside of I-285 and an increasingly limited road network that cannot handle the current regional population of 6 million, much less future population growth that could easily push the 8-10 million mark under even the slightest of favorable circumstances, that Atlanta will likely end up being a transit-heavy city in the long-run out of necessity (like Chicago and its 10 million inhabitants, etc) rather than by choice.

Because we just don’t have the road network to handle the current population of 6 million people, nor do we have the political will to expand the road network to handle the expected future population growth.

The Last Democrat in Georgia

April 30th, 2013
3:59 pm

zeke

April 30th, 2013
9:35 am

{{”Build the proposed “OUTER PERIMETER” and add a few very limited access/interchange direct routes around and away from the inner perimeter area and the city!”}}

…On its face, building an Outer Perimeter highway to take truck traffic off of the I-285 Perimeter and all approaching spoke interstates is an excellent idea as many major metros have either second or even third outer loops or bypasses.

But just like raising the state’s increasingly antiquated fuel tax, building a second outer loop in the form of the Outer Perimeter or a second northern outer bypass in the form of the Northern Arc is a total political impossibility.

There are too many extremely politically-powerful people in state and regional government standing in the way of an Outer Perimeter being built, particularly with regards to the Northern Arc which runs through some of the most affluent suburban areas in the nation and was officially cancelled by Governor Sonny Perdue in 2003 due to overwhelming opposition from a robust coalition of area residents, area landowners, regional environmentalists and regional transit activists.

The robust coalition that took down the Outer Perimeter/Northern Arc over a decade ago was pretty much the same across-the-board coalition that took down last year’s unpopular T-SPLOST, but without the Tea Party labels of the current political climate.

Second and/or third outer loops and bypasses around major North American cities include:

…Untolled I-495 around west of Boston;

…Untolled I-287 outside of New York City;

…Untolled TX Hwy 1604 north of San Antonio;

…Tolled FL Hwy 821 north & west around Miami;

…Tolled TX Hwy 8 Sam Houston Tollway around Houston which acts as a reliever road for original outer loop I-610;

…The under construction TX Hwy 99 Grand Parkway around Houston which will be fully tolled when completed and will be the THIRD outer bypass around Houston;

…The Tolled President George Bush Turnpike outside of Dallas;

…The TX Hwy 121 Sam Rayburn Tollway in the far northern outer suburbs of Dallas;

…The I-355 Veterans Memorial North-South Tollway west of Chicago;

…The MD Hwy 200 InterCounty Connector Toll Road through the far northern Maryland suburbs of Washington DC;

…Ontario Highway 407 Express Toll Route through the far-northern suburbs of Toronto which acts as a bypass to the busiest road on the planet, Ontario Highway 401 which carries over 500,000 vehicles daily, a figure which is currently known to be more than any other stretch of road on the entire planet.

Notice that 8 of the 11 second and/or third outer bypasses above are tolled.

Also notice that of the 9 major cities above that have second and/or third outer bypasses, 5 of them (Boston, New York, Washington, Chicago and Toronto) have an extremely-strong mass transit option to them, not by choice, but out of necessity due to limited road networks that cannot alone handle the traffic generated by extremely-large metro populations that range from 4.5 million in Toronto to 22 million in New York.

3 of the other 4 major cities with second and/or third outer bypasses (Houston, Dallas, Miami) are in the active process of strengthening their mass transit offerings over the long-term due to being on the verge of approaching a total build-out of their road networks which are much-stronger than the 5 transit-heavy cities on the list (Houston has a section of roadway that is nearly 30 lanes wide on the I-10 Katy Freeway on the westside of town between the I-610 Outer Loop and the TX Hwy 8 toll outer loop).

At this point in time, with 6 million residents to match Boston’s regional population of just over 6 million, despite a common misperception that Atlanta fits in more with road-heavy Sunbelt cities like Dallas and Houston, due to an extremely-limited road network that is worse than transit-heavy cities like Chicago and Washington D.C. and possibly even Boston, Atlanta pretty much fits more and more into the category of the 5 cities with second outer bypasses that are transit-heavy more than it does a road-heavy Sunbelt city.

Matt

April 30th, 2013
11:06 am

Toll roads will NOT solve the underlying problem on this stretch of I-75, which is 18 wheelers and out of town traffic.

Jefferson

April 30th, 2013
10:34 am

The whole interstate system was built without toll lanes, why can’t they expand without tolls. Why should we have to pay twice ? Who is ripping off the taxpayers, contractors ?