Gridlock Guy: I-75 South Metro Express Lanes to test future commuting

The Interstate 75 South Metro Express Lanes are slated to open at the end of January. Courtesy of GDOT

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The Interstate 75 South Metro Express Lanes are slated to open at the end of January. Courtesy of GDOT

Mark Arum is off this week. Doug Turnbull is the PM drive airborne anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB and writes his own traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com.

The Interstate 75 South Metro Express Lanes are nearing their most important milestone: opening. The 12-mile, double lane addition in the median of I-75 between Highway 138 and Highway 155 has been under construction since October of 2014 and caused substantial backups. But the Georgia Department of Transportation and the State Road and Tollway Authority are adamant that the new lanes, variably priced based upon traffic flow, will give motorists more options and save commute times on that busy, narrow corridor.

“There will be a 50-cent minimum trip toll on the system,” GDOT spokesperson Jill Goldberg says. “The SRTA Board set the overall toll rates at 10 cents to 90 cents per mile.”

This means an entire trip in the lanes could cost as little as $1.20 or as much as $10.80. The managed lanes change prices similarly to the I-85 HOT lanes in Gwinnett, but there are three glaring differences:

  • They are new, separated lanes — not toll lanes built in place of previously cost-free lanes.
  • GDOT and SRTA reverse the lanes based upon the predominant rush hour direction or special events.
  • There are only four access points to get in and out of the lanes: Highway 138, I-675, Jonesboro Rd. (exit 221), north of Highway 20/81, and Highway 155. The I-85 lanes in Gwinnett allow cars in and out in between each exit.

The most revolutionary trait of the South Metro Express Lanes is that they reverse direction. Pulling this off is a meticulous undertaking by HERO Units, SRTA and first responders.

Goldberg says that after rush hour ends, the reversal begins. “We anticipate the reversal process taking about two hours each time, and currently, we plan to do the reversals at 11 a.m. and again around 10 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

She also says that, barring any special event or major traffic mishap, the current plan on Friday night is to reverse the lanes to the northbound direction ahead of Monday morning’s rush hour.

The reversal process includes operators at GDOT’s Traffic Management Center turning off the pricing signs and and the “open” signs. Three HERO units will be on scene at any given time to monitor the remaining vehicles in the system. Then the TMC can close the gates and HERO drivers can observe this and manually close the gates, if they malfunction.

After the last gate closes, Goldberg says, more work begins before the lanes reverse. “The HERO operators will assist with removing any debris from the roadway, ensure that any abandoned vehicles are towed off site, and any needed maintenance is performed.” She says that motorists can no longer leave their disabled vehicles on the shoulders of the lanes past the end of rush hours.

The ribbon-cutting for the new lanes is Jan. 26. First responders have been training for months in the reversible lanes on the different procedures, not the least of which being how to respond to a wreck or other emergency in the tricky confines.

Goldberg says the toll lanes open to the public some time during the weekend of Jan. 28 and 29. Monday morning, Jan. 30, will be when the first rush hour motorists will test them.

Any car with a Peach Pass can use the lanes - there are no toll booths. The same pass works on I-85 already and will work on the Northwest Metro Express Lanes when they open in about a year.

The success of the South Metro Express Lanes will be a major barometer for how the bigger reversible lanes project on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee work down the road.


View an instructional video about how the Interstate 75 South Metro Express Lanes will work: www.dot.ga.gov/DS/GEL/I75ExpressLanes

Buy and reload Peach Passes and get more information: PeachPass.com.