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.
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.
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.