A 10-mile extension of the I-85 express lanes in Gwinnett County will open to drivers.

New Gwinnett I-85 toll lanes open Saturday: What you need to know

Georgia’s plans for a 120-mile network of toll lanes across metro Atlanta will be more than halfway complete with Saturday’s opening of new lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett County.

The Georgia Department of Transportation plans to open a 10-mile extension of the I-85 express lanes early Saturday morning. They’ll get their first rush-hour test Monday.

With the addition of the new lanes, GDOT will have 25 miles of toll lanes on I-85 and 68 miles of such lanes across the region.

You’ll need a Peach Pass to use the lanes - drivers who try to use the toll lanes without one risk a $25 ticket. Nearly 250,000 people were ticketed on existing I-85 toll lanes over a recent one-year period.

Here’s what else you need to know about the new lanes:

Where are they? The lanes are an extension of the existing I-85 express lanes in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties. The new lanes stretch from Old Peachtree Road near Suwanee to Hamilton Mill Road. There is a single lane in each direction.

Where can I access the lanes? The northbound exits are at Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, I-985, Buford Drive and Hamilton Mill Road. The southbound exits are Buford Drive, Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road and Old Peachtree Road.

What are these lanes? They’re a big part of GDOT’s plan to manage metro Atlanta traffic. They offer motorists a chance to bypass traffic congestion in the regular lanes, if they’re willing to pay a toll.

The state has a growing network of toll lanes. In addition to the existing I-85 lanes, GDOT has opened express lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties and on I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties.

Eventually, it plans to build toll lanes on Ga. 400 in Fulton and Forsyth counties and along the top half of the Perimeter.

Darryl VanMeter, GDOT’s assistant director of public-private partnerships, said the lanes will have a bigger impact on traffic as more lanes are added. “It’s the power of a network,” he said.

Why build toll lanes instead of more “free” lanes? GDOT says free (or “general purpose”) lanes won’t solve the region’s traffic mess. That’s because many motorists avoid congested interstates, but they return to the highways after the new lanes open – and fill them up almost immediately.

So GDOT is attempting to manage traffic congestion by building toll lanes.

How do they work? Motorists pay by the mile, and the price fluctuates along with traffic – the heavier the traffic, the higher the toll. The idea is to raise the price enough to discourage some motorists from using them and keep traffic moving at an average of 45 mph.

That keeps traffic in the toll lanes moving for people willing to pay for the convenience. GDOT says there is some benefit to motorists in the regular lanes – as more vehicles use the toll lanes, it frees up space in the “free” lanes.

How much does it cost? The minimum toll for most of the day is 10 cents a mile. Overnight (roughly 12 a.m. to 5 a.m.), when traffic is lightest, the state charges 50 cents a trip, no matter how long the trip.

There is no maximum toll. On the existing I-85 lanes, the price has risen as high as $15.95 recently for the longest possible trip. That may rise, with the addition of 10 new miles of lanes. But VanMeter said most motorists don’t travel the full length of the express lanes.

How can I use the lanes? You must have an active, registered Peach Pass – a sticker that attaches to your car and records tolls as motorists pass checkpoints.

Don’t think you can sneak into the lanes without one. The state records the license plates of vehicles in the lanes and can tell if you don’t have a pass. You’ll get a $25 ticket – though the cost can rise if you go to court.

As Channel 2 Action News reported this week, nearly 250,000 people were ticketed on the existing I-85 lanes during the 12 months that ended in June.

How can I get a Peach Pass? To buy a pass and for more information on the toll lanes, visit www.peachpass.com.

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