When the Georgia 400 tolls began in 1993, state officials promised the charges would end when the bond debt was paid off.
That was going to happen in 2011, but in September 2010 then-Gov. Sonny Perdue, and the state tollway authority which he chaired, voted to extend the tolls until 2020 for other highway projects.
In 2010 gubernatorial candidate Nathan Deal pledged to end the tolls as the state originally promised, but after his election he said Perdue’s extension made it impossible to keep the campaign pledge.
Then, in 2012, along came the highly controversial T-SPLOST plan backed by Deal for $8.5 billion in transportation projects funded by a new one-cent sales tax subject to voter approval. The plan ran into deep trouble with polls forecasting defeat in most areas, notably in the metro Atlanta region.
Trying to shore up support 12 days before the referendum on the T-SPLOST, Deal announced he would retire the $40 million in new bonds by Dec. 1, 2013 and bring an end to Georgia 400 tolls.
Last week, Deal marked the official demise of the tolls by collecting the last 50 cents — paid by Linda and Mike Weinroth — the first motorists to pay the toll when the road opened 20 years ago.
Clearing away the toll booths and other major components of the system will begin after the holidays, and the demolition will not be completed until the fall of next year.
Tolls are in the future for Cobb and Cherokee although the charges will be for “managed lanes” or “optional lanes” instead of all lanes.
There will be two new “managed lanes” running from Interstate 75 at Akers Mill Road to I-575 on the western side of the interstate. The lanes will be reversible — southbound in the morning and northbound in the afternoon.
Along I-575, the lanes will split and reduce to one lane in the median to Sixes Road and the other in the median of I-75 to Hickory Grove Road.
Drivers who use these lanes will have to pay a toll that fluctuates based on traffic volume.
But no one gets a free ride except for transit buses, a contrast to the high occupancy toll lanes in Gwinnett and previously planned along I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee. Now HOT is out and “managed lanes” are in.
Anyone driving in the Cobb-Cherokee optional lanes will pay for the privilege, regardless of whether it’s a solo driver or a van with a dozen passengers. At least no existing lanes are going to be converted into toll lanes as was the case in Gwinnett.
The toll lanes, and maybe even new toll roads, are coming. And unlike the Georgia 400 tolls, there is no promise of ending them.