Poll Position: Did Deal cave too quickly on HOT lane pricing?

On Monday, Georgia’s first experiment with high-occupancy toll lanes began on I-85. Before the Thursday evening rush hour, Gov. Nathan Deal waved the white flag.

As my AJC colleagues have documented, frustration with the new HOT lanes ran high this week. But no one, including advocates of the lanes that charge variable toll prices depending on traffic levels, expected things to run perfectly from the get-go.

And we barely finished with “get” before Deal decided to “go” in a different direction.

Did Gov. Deal act prematurely in changing the HOT lane prices after four days?

  • No (271 Votes)
  • Yes (140 Votes)

Total Voters: 411

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The lanes have drawn complaints from motorists for the prices charged, but the data available so far indicate that the tolls actually paid have been toward the lower end of the pricing scale of 10 cents per mile to 90 cents per mile: “Before Deal’s action,” the AJC reports, “the maximum that had actually been charged to travel the full 16 miles was $5.50; under the new pricing it will be $3.05…a 44.5 percent decrease.”

At $5.50 for 16 miles, the average price per mile was about 34 cents. At $3.05, the average would be about 19 cents.

Short of a technical problem with calibrating the price to ensure traffic in the HOT lanes travels at least 45 mph — and there’s been no suggestion that happened — it seems awfully premature to change the pricing plan after less than a week. It may well be true that the HOT lanes weren’t being used as heavily as expected. But it’s only been four days; most commuters are still getting used to the switch from HOV lanes to the new toll system.

That’s my take. What’s yours? It’s this week’s Poll Position question. Answer in the nearby poll and in the comments thread below.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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127 comments Add your comment


October 7th, 2011
6:33 am

My take? The lane is a boondoggle that won’t even pay for itself. Oh, wait, that’s supposed to be the argument against rapid rail-based transit, not roads….


October 7th, 2011
6:47 am

Well, the problem is if the toll is so high no one uses it, then more cars are in the non-HOT lanes. And apparently traffic is worse now.

And if you do a demand curve analysis, they may be able to make more money by lowering the price. Thus, a lower toll can be a win-win.


October 7th, 2011
6:50 am

Why are you defending this mess? There is no logical reason to have the Lexus Lanes except for the revenue they might raise. The revenue they will raise is going to be peanuts. Meanwhile, the main benefit of HOV lanes–getting more cars into that lane in an (sometimes hopeless) attempt to ease traffic by letting cars with two or more people in that lane. Now that those two passengers cars have to pay, why on earth would anyone subject themselves to the inconvenience of carpooling? For fourteen years I drove from Dacula to Buckhead. Even though I make a great living, there is no way I’m going to pay $11 a day for the Lexus Lane. I recommend we let the “free market” take care of this abysmal experiment. Don’t use the lane, and maybe, eventually we will get some people in charge that have at least one brain. Every great city I’ve ever lived in or visited has had a robust, efficient rail system. Charlotte is eating our lunch and they have a new, developing rapid transit system. So, Kyle, what justification can you possibly have for this mess? Why do you always parrot the Republican, good ‘ol boy DOT mantra on this issue?


October 7th, 2011
7:07 am

Reminds me of the old saw: You can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make him drink. The new HOT lanes sound too complicated to me. I’d rather leave home a little earlier and travel in the slow lanes.


October 7th, 2011
7:10 am

Driving to work the other morning at 9:30 am and nobody is in the HOT lanes and everybody is in the other congested 5 lanes. its disgusting! This roils by blood to see such waste and so little respect for other peoples’ time. the poor should suffer in the traffic because they can’t afford the toll lane. outrageous!


October 7th, 2011
7:12 am

Why can’t you understand that lawmakers from Podunk, Ga with a population of 200 shouldn’t be making decisions about transportation in a metropolitan area. Georgia lawmakers are idiots and anyone that voted for them is an idiot as well.

you missed the point

October 7th, 2011
7:15 am

How you can you defend an government action where they used our tax dollars to build a lane for commuter/carpool use, then take more taxpayer dollars to build a system that continues to charge us to use something the taxpayers already paid for? It’s not about the system they built, but the actions taking by gov’t, to use our taxpayer dollars not once, but twice on the same asset to pick winners (people who can afford lane) and losers (those who won’t pay). I’ll be voting out all incumbents until this toll system is gone.

Johns creek

October 7th, 2011
7:16 am

It seems to me they need to raise the price of the HOT lanes if the costs are to be paid for by the users. It appears that we now have HOT lanes that are being subsidized by poor who cannot afford to use the lanes,for the benefit of the rich, who get a first class trip.


October 7th, 2011
7:16 am

He probably is caving too soon on price, but I am glad he is pushing for more access points. That, and not price, is what is holding me back from using the lane.

I get on at Sugarloaf (or could use Old Peachtree), but cannot access the HOT until Beaver Ruin. That is more than a few miles, and where traffic is the worst. There should be one, and possibly two, more access points in that stretch.


October 7th, 2011
7:24 am

If you lower the price where the lane is 80% full you have failure. The traffic must move much faster than the rest of the lanes and be for elite travelers.


October 7th, 2011
7:26 am

Don’t Senators and Congressmen get to use the HOT lanes for free?

Southern Comfort

October 7th, 2011
7:33 am

Until the metro area actually gets serious about removing cars from the road, there will be no relief from congestion. Only a fool will pay more money to use a stretch of highway that they’ve already paid for and is still paying for with their tax dollars. Funny that the Taxed Enough Already people are not protesting what amounts to an additional tax, although voluntary, for using highway that’s already been paid for by taxes.


October 7th, 2011
7:36 am

This morning WSBTV news said Deal lowered the fare, and all money raised is to used to maintain the HOT lane. I started laughing so loud it woke up my wife. To think that the State of GA would actually use the money to maintain the HOT lane. What a joke. This money raised is to be used where ever they deem fit to use it. Why is there still a toll to use 400 which was suppose to be suspend but is still in affect.


October 7th, 2011
7:37 am

Kyle this is a boondoggle and has been from the start. The fundamental error made here is that someone in government…hummm who could that have been…decided to steal lanes purchased and paid for by taxpayers for this project. If you think this is a good idea, and it might be in some cases, you have to build a case to ADD capacity that will be sold. Stealing existing capacity from motorists that have already paid the bill is just wrong.


October 7th, 2011
7:42 am

Welcome to the future. The job creators demand a hassle free commute, even if it must be subsidized by the rest of us. What’s next? Why not exempt the job creators from the criminal laws? Why not sell our national parks to the job creators–at a subsidized price of course. Want a view of the Grand Canyon but can’tafford rim lot with a view? It’s your fault. You should have been a CEO, a Wall Street Banker or a hedge fund manager–or be born the child of one of those folks.

Michael Marr

October 7th, 2011
7:44 am

Enjoying my stress-free and now cheaper ride down the HOT lane. When does it extend to Williams Street, my main exit?

old timer

October 7th, 2011
7:46 am

After taking a car trip all the way to Maine..I realized most states use toll roads. They are not even well maintained roads. It cost us a lot to travel these roads and at times they were packed. The PN Turnpike was awful..a nighmare at 80 miles an hour. I guess we in Ga have been kind of spoiled not khaving to pay for roads two or three times. Of course in the NE Corridor khas other good options not avaliable in Atlanta and probably never will be.


October 7th, 2011
7:46 am

I agree with most above – the entire project of converting HOV lanes to toll-paying money-makers was a boondoggle from the beginning. Nothing that can or will be done will do anything but sink the follie further into the muck. Deal may not have been in office when this idea was hatched and adopted. But like Obama, playing the game of reducing fees or taxing the rich for strictly political gain just isn’t going to fool a skeptic public.

the MIC

October 7th, 2011
7:47 am

The HOT lanes were created to produce revenue, they have absolutely nothing to do with improving traffic. HOT lanes discourage two person commutes, which would decrease the number of vehicles on the roads. Leave it up the the crooks, GDOT, to come up with such a mess, oh wait, wasn’t person responsible for this HOT mess fired from the head of DOT? One thing is very clear, the leadership at GDOT is out of touch with Georgia drivers. Yes, I too will fire the incumbents! I say, NO DEAL!
I have another question, wasn’t federal money used to build the HOV lanes? Just another issue that proves the GDOT leaders are thieves.

old timer

October 7th, 2011
7:47 am

@Hadit…your wealth envy is showing. It is not pretty…..

This is Mrs. Norman Maine

October 7th, 2011
7:53 am

The commuters from Gwinnett and North Georgia want to drive, they do not want to even consider alternate forms of transit. Therefore they should pay for it. If they do not want to pay then they can just inch along I-85 and choke on their own fumes.

Common Sense

October 7th, 2011
7:55 am

But we are taxing the 1% for the benefit of the 99% that do not use the HOT lanes.

Isn’t that what we are all about today?


October 7th, 2011
7:59 am

Yes ‘the MIC’ all what you said is true. This was started under the previous governor and when you look at who is involved with this project nothing more needs to be said. This was fast paced into service quicker than anything I have seen living here in Georgia for the past 40 years. However the people of this state keep voting these goobers into office and this is what they get.


October 7th, 2011
8:01 am

Old Timer

You don’t know me. You know nothing about me. How dare you presume to read my mind. I make a good living. I envy nobody. Go straight to hell.


October 7th, 2011
8:06 am

I have lived in the Atlanta area all my life and I have driven into downtown to work for nearly 25 years. While I live in the burbs and commute my drive time is really bad and has increased over the years. I have visted many cities here in the states and abroard and Atlanta just does not get the whole transportation issue. We do not have a good rapid transit system that can get you to points all round the burbs. I would have to drive somewhere to take a bus to a station to take a train to another bus. No thanks. Our roads are so congested these days a 3 hour total commute is the norm. However when something is done to try and elevate the congestion, good or bad, it is bashed and we throw in the towel. I am not saying I am a huge fan of the HOT lanes cause I have been sitting in the I-85 mess this week but something has to change with our congestion.


October 7th, 2011
8:08 am

hadit…. protest too much much?

walter biscardi

October 7th, 2011
8:10 am

The lane is a complete joke. Taxpayers paid for that lane to be converted years ago and now we have to pay for it again. On Wednesday evening while driving south on I-85 at 5:15pm, I witnesse a traffic jam northbound from Sugarloaf Pkwy all the way to North Druid Hills where I exited and the traffic was still jammed as far as I could see southbound. I’ve never seen anything like that without an accident on the road.

The “expert” in the current AJC article today who is shocked that the governor changed the pricing so quickly can go ahead and pay the tab for everybody. What the governor did yesterday was meaningless. The toll needs to go, period.

Welcome to Atlanta out of towners. I don’t give a crap how many people are in that car, get over into the traffic mess because you don’t have a Peach Pass. There’s a good friendly welcome to the ATL.

Making people pay for the honor of driving down a road they already paid for does not fix traffic problems. Light Rail is the only true answer to get more cars off the road but we don’t have a government strong enough to push this. Just another weak governor giving in to the idiots at the GA DOT who just keep pushing more car centric ideas to solve the issue of too many cars on the road.

Now that commutes are lengthened I wonder how this will affect the already tenuous job market. Now that folks are going to be stuck in traffic even longer, complaining to their bosses that the already bad traffic in Atlanta is even worse, what incentive is there for large corporations to stay in the city? Move out to where traffic and the quality of life is better.


October 7th, 2011
8:10 am

The mistake was made when they got in bed with the Feds on the funding. Every government dollar (well, tax dollars stolen from the productive sector of society) comes with strings attached. Government is a failure at everything it does and micromanagement of transportation issues is no different. The 85 needs about 7 lanes on each side to handle the traffic and a northern arc freeway to reduce the load would also probably serve the northside very well. But GA looked at the “free” money from the feds combined with a potential revenue source from the lanes and stupidly said YES.

Doesn’t matter what Deal does, the project was a failure from the start.

capital IST

October 7th, 2011
8:10 am

a true capitalist would raise the rate… we have the poor smucks in the the free lane stewing… once cooked they will pay…. muhahaaa. Patience…. build it and they will come


October 7th, 2011
8:11 am

I don’t get how simply charging for one of the lanes will somehow improve traffic flow. Isn’t this a DOT version of trading derivitives ?


October 7th, 2011
8:12 am

This HOT Lane issue has been eating at me since the beginning… BOB POOLE..You are an idiot in my opinion.This idea is NOT for the working class man/woman who paid for these roadway to constructed and are now being FORCED to pay to use them. I am sorry BOB but your plan is just plain stupid. I am getting together a list of names of every elected official involved in passing this ridiculous idea and do everything a lowly citizen can do to see that none of you are put in the position to try and rape me from my money anymore.
Please let us know.. Are you the same fool that has been in charge of re-paving the connector 3 times in 5 years?..There is another waste of taxpayers money…..


October 7th, 2011
8:14 am

I disagree strongly with the overall backlash to the lanes. Atlanta’s traffic and sprawl problem is ridiculous and needs factors like the HOT lanes (a small step) to dissuade people from living so incredibly far from where they work. I recently moved from DC, where the traffic is notoriously bad, and yet it doesn’t hold a candle to the logjams here in Atlanta. DC, as well as the rest of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, use HOT lanes (3+ occupancy) and other toll roads to improve traffic flow. It’s simply a consumption tax — you pay for the amount of road you decide to burn up each day.

Also, it is a CHOICE. Those who complain about the price — don’t use the lanes! I come down 400 and wish the toll was higher and weighted to charge those who drive from Cumming more than those who drive from Dunwoody. That’s a price you should pay for choosing to live in cheaper housing with more land/space/better schools. Cue hysterical rants in 3, 2, 1…


October 7th, 2011
8:15 am

Let’s see….the HOV lanes were originally built with our tax dollars. Now we are being charged extra to use them. I wonder why folks aren’t happy????


October 7th, 2011
8:21 am

My friend in Berlin tells me she rides her bike to the train station and then bikes from the train to her office. My friend in France bikes along a beautiful canal from her morning office to her afternoon office. My friend in Washington bikes seven miles from her home to her work at the state capitol. My friend in Atlanta bikes after dark when there is no traffic.


October 7th, 2011
8:23 am

Just want to remind everyone…..this HOT Lane idea was passed in the PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION. Governor Deal is just having to try to make it work. Hasty decision to change to tolls…….I think not.


October 7th, 2011
8:28 am

Demonstrations on Wall Street show more and more of the people understanding just how the rich are getting more and the middle class and poor are getting less. This HOT lane is just another way for the rich to get what the middle class and poor cannot. This trend will not change in the foreseeable future without a viable third party being established and money ceasing to be the driving force behind American politics.


October 7th, 2011
8:28 am

I’m not sure why planners thought this would work. They wanted to ease traffic with a plan that didn’t take any additional cars OFF the highway. Which means the plan was only about raising more money. We should come to the 21st century and build out our rail system. Building more stops within 285 and taking the existing lines further out into the metro area. Or does that make too much sense?


October 7th, 2011
8:29 am

My thoughts? Taxes were paid to construct that lane, taxes pay to maintain that lane, and now I have to pay additional taxes to use that lane. Wrong on so many levels.

Ivy League

October 7th, 2011
8:31 am

The concept was elitist when it was designed and was a sign of social changes to come. It’s still elitist, and is just another attempt by the Georgia government to sustain itself rather than do good for the people.


October 7th, 2011
8:33 am

Did the same guy that designed the 400 & 85 interchange have anything to do with this?

Nice exit ramp from 400south to 85north sir

Nothing like having to get off and negotiate a few red lights to get to the interstate you
want to travel on .

Plus, if you’re lucky you get to get cut off by a few Buckhead snobs.


October 7th, 2011
8:36 am

I traveled on I-285 and I-85 into Gwinnett yesterday afternoon. What a joke! How can you charge for existing lanes? This is just a uniquely disguised TAX!!!

Why doesn’t Gov. Deal get up on tv and say, “The State of Georgia is broke, sorry.” If you are going to invoke a toll, at least have new lanes added. That’s kind of the purpose of a toll. First, stop paying the DOT executives 6 figures start building roads!!!

This State just doesn’t have it together when it comes to anything. Atlanta can be used in such a way to promote the rest of the State. But when you have traffic problems like I-85 in Gwinnett, what business would come to metro Atlanta? That’s why Atlanta will never truly prosper and compete with other major cities. Why do you think Kia is in LaGrange? Real Estate in Atlanta is a joke and transportation is horrible!


October 7th, 2011
8:37 am

I’m curious as to the answer of this situation. A driver in the toll lane is now behind another driver who is broken down where there is no shoulder into which the broken-down car can move. Does the driver behind now cross the double white lines to get around them (and have to pay a fine), or just sit and wait for help to arrive? What if they cross the double white line and then immediately get back into the toll lane? Is that two fines? It’s my understanding there are sensors along the road to detect drivers crossing the lines.


October 7th, 2011
8:42 am

Governor Deal responded correctly in lowering the tolls, and now he needs to allow 2 person carpools to ride free again. I ride the bus to work and all week I have seen only 5 vehicles in front of our bus from 316 to Shallowford Road. Two person carpools cannot travel free, and so all of their vehicles are back in the regular lanes, hence the gridlock this week in the morning and evening commutes. Gas prices have dropped a little, but we are still in lean economic times and most of us are cutting expenses any way we can. If you multiply a $3-$5 one way toll by 2 for one day of commuting that’s $6-$10/day. Multiply that by 5 days in the week it costs $30-$50/week. And multiply that by 4 weeks in a month and the tolls are $120-$200. I don’t know anyone who is OK with adding that additional cost to their commuting expenses, even if it’s split with fellow carpoolers. The HOV was working fine, HOT is a failure. That $60 million dollars HOT price tag would have been better used if they had put more buses on the road and created connecting stations that could get people to work all over Atlanta, downtown, Midtown, at points around the perimeter, etc. We need a coordinated rail and bus system to get cars off the road. HOV lanes provided an incentive to carpool, and HOT lanes are only punitive. I have not heard one person say anything positive about the HOT lanes except on the news when they interviewed the clueless people from DOT.


October 7th, 2011
8:43 am

Mr. Wingfield, your only comments are about “pricing:”. Pricing isn’t the issue with the people who live up I-85—-it’s choice. The state has taken away our CHOICE to carpool and use an HOV lane without being gouged for it. I hope these “gouge–no choice” lanes are a miserable failure.

More Lanes!

October 7th, 2011
8:45 am

The government needs to add more lanes on I-85 and I-75 for free use. Add 2-3 lanes on each side of the road. I’m tired of waiting in traffic on these long commutes to downtown.


October 7th, 2011
8:47 am

The purpose of the lexus lanes is to give everyone a choice–if you really need to get somewhere fast, you can pay the toll and get there at a guaranteed 45 mph. If the new toll is too low, the lane will get clogged and we lose that choice. As mad as people are now, if the HOT lane becomes just as slow as the rest of I-85…that will really be a waste.


October 7th, 2011
8:48 am

Every pic the AJC published of the HOT lanes and every video on TV news showed little if any usage. It’s wrong and unfair to charge a toll for which you have no clue what the total will tally. It also in fundamentally unfair to people with lower income struggling to get to and from work…especially in a recession. What is so damned bogus is having to register a vehicle…and then to change the status of your vehicle from 1 or 2 to 3 passengers has to be done 15 minutes before you enter or change a lane. Are you people just plain f**king stupid?
Lord help the out of state drivers who never heard of such crap. They’ll think HOT is HOV and get ticketed. Of course the HOT lanes will move at 45 miles per hour….nobody is using them. And who likes the idea of big brother? red light cameras, speed cameras and now cameras on the HOT…….a project for which law enforcement can not even pay police….(except 4 state trooper patrolling the lanes supposedly) to do their job. GEROGIA’S DEPARATE ATTEMPT TO SCREW OVER DRIVERS. How about raising the tax on gasoline?m Morons!

Transportation Whisperer

October 7th, 2011
8:53 am

The rationale for his decision is simple, backhanded, and manipulative; as is every decision made by every level of our continuously growing government. Note that the article states the reduction in price is TEMPORARY and can be adjusted back up at any point in the future. The money grubbing politicians are fearful of the backlash on this ripoff and want to calm the public outrage prior to giving us the ability to vote down the transportation tax (TSPLOST) they have schemed for next year. They believe you are stupid enough to overlook the toll if they lower it; then you’ll be stupid enough to fork over more of your hard earned money (or authorize them to steal more of mine and spend it on you, if you are one of the nearly 50% that pays no tax). Ever seen an old farm hand hold a chicken and rub it on the head to calm it – right before ringing its neck? Your heads are being rubbed people, don’t let it distract you into getting your neck rung on the TSPLOST vote. At least we have the ability to vote on that round; not like the HOT lanes and unwarranted extension of the GA 400 tolls.


October 7th, 2011
8:57 am

This sounds like one big HOT Az mess

ragnar danneskjold

October 7th, 2011
9:05 am

Sounds to me like the governor was not entirely sold on the idea in the first place, was giving leeway to a senior advisor. I can understand going with your advisor’s recommendations within their area of expertise despite personal misgivings; that also explains the speed of correcting a perceived error. The downside is the tremendous waste in constructing the project.