Gridlock Guy: HOT Express Lane toll may set new record

Nov. 10, 2015 was a record-breaking morning drive in Atlanta traffic. On that date we saw a $12 HOT-Express Lane rate set to make the trip from Old Peachtree Road to Shallowford Road on Interstate 85 southbound. We’ve tied that record many times since, but this morning we might see that record broken.

Today marks the new increase in tolls set by the State Road and Tollway Authority for the busiest stretches of I-85 in Gwinnett County.

Why the increase? The Express Lanes are becoming too popular. SRTA is mandated to keep an average speed of 45 mph in the Express Lanes. So many motorists are now using the lanes, it is becoming tougher and tougher to keep that minimum speed.

Currently 27,000 commuters use the Express Lanes on a daily basis and SRTA says that number continues to rise. A majority of those drivers don’t use the Express Lanes for their entire trip down I-85, they just use it during the most congested stretches of pavement.

The increases in rates applied to the busiest stretches of the Peach Pass lanes is hoped to decrease some of the congestion and help keep speeds up in the lanes.

The new pricing will occur during the highest traveled times of the rush hour, 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m.

Simply put, this morning you could see a higher price in the Express Lane traveling between Highway 316 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard. It remains to be seen if these segment increases will then bump up the toll rate for the entire stretch. If they do, then the $12 record could be broken sometime before 8 a.m. today.

The I-85 Express Lanes certainly have a large number of vocal critics, but the increase in usage indicates to me that the general public is starting to see the benefits of an express lane. While a large percentage of drivers in the HOT lanes are paying to use the lane, there has certainly been an increase in carpoolers and alternative fuel vehicles using the lanes as well. These commuters do not have to pay the toll to use the lanes.

The price increase this morning comes on the heels of a ground breaking on the I-85 Express Lanes Extension. That’s right, the Express Lanes are expanding along I-85. The new lanes will stretch from Old Peachtree Road all the way up to Hamilton Mill Road.

“Coupled with the success of the existing 16-mile stretch of express toll lanes on I-85 in DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, the new extension will provide motorists with more mobility options while creating economic development opportunities and improved quality of life for the residents of this region,” said Christopher Tomlinson, Executive Director at SRTA.

For commuters that regularly travel that I-85 corridor from the Gwinnett/Jackson county line toward Interstate 985 can vouch for the need of the expansion. Now that school is back in session, the delays between Hamilton Mill and I-985 now rival the jams found between Highway 316 and Jimmy Carter Boulevard. The population explosion in northern Gwinnett and Hall counties is seen every morning on I-85.

The new 10-mile stretch of express lanes is hoped to be completed by the summer of 2018.

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