Gridlock Guy: Truck-only lanes may be solution for I-75 congestion

As Friday’s evening rush hour showed, one of the busiest stretches of pavement in the metro area is Interstate 75 in Henry County. Most of the jams that develop on the interstate are caused by people heading to and from Florida and by tractor trailers hauling goods. Last week my colleague Andria Simmons broke news of a possible solution to the extra traffic floated by state transportation leaders: new truck-only lanes on I-75 northbound between Macon and McDonough.

The possible $2 billion project would construct new lanes along I-75 northbound that would be used by big rigs only. They would be free lanes, meaning trucks would not have to pay a toll to use them.

With the expansion of the Savanah port, it is believed that truck traffic will soon explode along the Interstate 16 an I-75 corridors as more goods are shipped to Georgia and then taken by trucks to other areas around the country. Anyone that has ever traveled along that stretch of I-75 knows there is already a huge amount of truck traffic and it is expected to increase significantly after the port expansion.

So, is this project needed? In the abstract, I would say yes. I’m all for transportation ideas that are outside the box and this one certainly is. But, I have my concerns.

First, I find the price tag too low. Building 40 miles of interstate lanes is an expensive endeavour and I think the final price tag will be well north of the $2 billion number.

Then next question is will this help Atlanta traffic? Probably not. Since the new lanes will be northbound only, it will likely only aid traffic heading between Macon and McDonough. It will not impact the southbound delays we often see leaving Henry County.

Do we really need new lanes? Right now we do, but will we need it 10 years from now? I think not. Again, as I’ve mentioned in this column many times before, I believe we are on the verge of a transportation revolution. The breakout of self-driving vehicles will dramatically change our traffic woes for the better unlike anything we’ve ever seen. So, should we spend at least $2 billion on new lanes that might not be needed in a decade? I don’t think so. Other disagree.

“Do we believe it’s going to work? Yes. We wouldn’t be trying it if we didn’t,” said Jay Roberts, planning director for the Georgia Department of Transportation. “If it is as successful as we believe it will be, we could replicate it throughout the state of Georgia.”

The project is currently just a proposal. A lot of things need to happen before any dirt is moved and any new pavement is created.

“Every project starts out with an idea of what we think is needed,” Meg Pirkle GDOT Chief Engineer said. “We still have to do our due diligence.”

The idea of truck only lanes on this size and scale is unprecedented in the United States. I will make sure to keep you posted on it’s progress.