• Unlike the GA 400 toll, these new toll lanes will not apply to all lanes.
• Unlike Interstate 85, the toll lanes coming to Interstates 75 and 575 will not convert any existing lanes to toll.
• Anybody who does not want to pay a toll can continue to drive in the existing lanes and pay no tolls. The existing lanes on I-75 and I-575 will remain unchanged and un-tolled.
On I-75 between Town Center and Cumberland, there will be a new separate, parallel two-lane road on the west side of I-75 running parallel to the existing lanes. Both of these new lanes will run southbound in the morning and both lanes will run northbound in the afternoon and evening.
Commuters are getting two new lanes of capacity to alleviate rush hour traffic in the morning and in the evening. Building only a total of two lanes, but in effect adding two extra lanes of capacity in both directions, is cost-effective. In addition, taxpayers are only paying part of the cost of building these new lanes. Part of the cost will ultimately be paid by the tolls.
If 5,000 commuters choose to pay the toll to utilize the toll lanes, that is 5,000 fewer cars in the free general-purpose lanes during rush hour. That means less traffic congestion in the free-general purpose lanes. The I-75 / 575 toll lanes are a win-win for taxpayers and commuters.
Another project that will probably result in new toll lanes is Revive285. Revive285 is a project whose purpose is to reduce traffic congestion on the top end of I-285. Revive285 still has four alternatives under consideration.
• Alternative 1: No Build would basically do nothing and let traffic get even worse as the population and traffic volume increases over time.
• Alternative 4: Safety and Operational Improvements would fix bottlenecks by reconfiguring interchanges whose current poor design obstructs traffic flow. The new configurations will be tremendous improvements.
• Alternative 6-A would do all of the safety and operational improvements included in Alternative 4, and also add two new toll lanes in each direction. Alternative 6-A would not take away or convert or change any existing lanes.
• Alternative 6-B would take away an existing free general-purpose lane in each direction and convert it to a toll lane. It is likely Alternative 6-B would make traffic congestion worse in the remaining free general purpose lanes. (Think of “B” as meaning BAD.)
Both Alternative 4 and Alternative 6-A will reduce traffic congestion. Alternative 4 is very cost-effective. 6-A would likely provide more traffic congestion relief for a longer period of time. And 6-A will accommodate considerably greater traffic volume than Alternative 4, so 6-A is also clearly a good alternative.
When Congress passed the last highway bill in 2012, it included a provision that prohibits converting existing free general-purpose lanes to toll. So, right now, it appears that Alternative 6-B is illegal by current federal law. However, the current highway bill expires on June 30, 2014. If Congress does not renew this provision in the next highway bill, Alternative 6-B would become legal again.
Congress should pass a permanent law prohibiting the conversion of existing free general purpose lanes to toll. The Georgia Legislature could also pass a law prohibiting this abuse of taxpayers in Georgia.
Taxpayers have already paid for all of the existing lanes on I-285. There are no HOV lanes on I-285. All of the existing lanes on I-285 are free general-purpose lanes.
Alternative 6-B would convert already-paid-for, free, general-purpose lanes to toll. This would force more traffic into the remaining free, general purpose lanes, likely making traffic congestion worse in those lanes. That is just WRONG.
Hopefully, Alternative 6-B won’t happen. GDOT probably recognizes that 6-B saves little money compared to 6-A, and that 6-B will result in worse performance in the general purpose lanes. Also, in the aftermath of the I-85 fiasco, GDOT may not want to give themselves another black eye.
However, conversion of existing lanes to toll is a long-term threat. GDOT has publicly stated that their long term plan is for similar toll lanes on virtually all stretches of interstate highway in the Atlanta region. Conversion of existing lanes to toll will be a constant threat unless Congress or the Georgia Legislature act to prohibit this abuse in the future.
Ron Sifen is president of the Cobb County Civic Coalition.