Gridlock Guy: Anniversary of toll ending shows increased traffic

Almost one year ago, Nov. 21, 2013 the last toll was collected on Ga. 400. It marked the end of a 20-year collection on the state highway. As the last 50 cent toll was collected Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal beamed.

“I made a promise that the tolls would end when the bond debt was paid and I am proud to stand here today to mark the end of that debt, and the fulfillment of that commitment,” Deal said. “I am happy to announce that Ga. 400 motorists can now keep their change.”

True, drivers could now keep their change, but has their commute changed with the removal of the tolls?

Now that the demolition project and reconfiguration of the former toll plaza and toll lanes are almost complete, how has traffic changed on that stretch of pavement between Interstate 285 and Interstate 85 on Ga. 400?

A year ago in this very column I warned that once the destruction of the toll area was complete we could expect to see an increase in traffic of around 10 percent.

The latest data is in, and I wasn’t too far off.

“We predicted an increase in the range of 10 percent to 18 percent after the removal of the tolls on Ga. 400 last year,” Natalie Dale, spokesperson for the Georgia Department of Transportation said. “Since that time, there has been approximately 10,000 more motorists choosing to use this corridor- an increase from 65,000 to 75,000 per day in one direction.”

There are a couple of factors at work here. First, obviously a lot of drivers used to avoid that area of Ga. 400 to avoid paying the 50 cent toll. With the toll gone, thrifty commuters have taken to the road between Buckhead and Sandy Springs. Another factor is a certain population surge along the corridor.

“Obviously, this is a high growth area and traffic counts will likely continue to increase as new commercial and residential development occurs in the Ga 400 corridor,” Bert Brantley, deputy executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority said.

Since the tolls ended the DOT has taken back “ownership” of the road from the Tollway Authority and the removal of the toll is just one cog in a larger traffic management plan by the state in the I-285, Ga. 400 area.

“We are committed to easing congestion in this vital corridor through large projects, such as the 285/400 interchange improvements, and small projects which include the recent implementation of additional FLEX lane options for morning and evening rush hour commutes,” Dale said.

As a traffic reporter, I have seen an increase in delays on Ga. 400 between I-285 and I-85 since the toll was taken down. Some of that has to do with the ongoing construction in the area, and I’m certain that some if it has to do with the increase in traffic volume.

I will be curious to check back on the data in another twelve months. I predict we might see yet another 10 percent increase in traffic volume.

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