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Tolling Points

Georgia Manages Congestion with Dynamically-Priced Lanes

By: 
Bill Cramer

The Georgia Department of Transportation is about to conclude the biggest highway project in its history, a 30-mile stretch of reversible express lanes along highways I-575 in Cherokee County and I-75 in Cobb County.

The Northwest Corridor Express Lanes are expected to open in late summer. Once they’re in operation, drivers will be able to choose a congestion-free option travelling southbound in the morning and northbound in the afternoon rush.

“Having that reversible option means we can give drivers going south in the morning a more reliable trip as well as those who are coming home in the afternoon,” said GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale.

Dodging Congestion, Boosting Transit

In its Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the project, GDOT stresses two of the key success factors that have driven the rise of managed lanes in urban centers across the United States: the opportunity for commuters to dodge daily congestion, and the connection to improved transit.

The lanes “provide a choice for drivers to bypass congestion, provide a free option for transit operators, and provide more reliable trip times within these corridors,” the FAQ states. “Dynamic rate pricing ensures express lanes provide more reliable trip times for those who choose to pay and for transit partners using the lanes,” allowing “as many travelers as possible to use the lanes while still meeting expectations for free-flowing travel.”

Georgia’s Hub-and-Spoke Model

In a presentation earlier in the spring to the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce, Chris Tomlinson, Executive Director of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA), and GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry traced the wider “hub-and-spoke” development plan of which the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes are just a part. Tomlinson cast I-75 as one spoke in the network and a series of toll lanes along I-85 through Gwinnett as another, with highway I-285 as the hub.

“Tomlinson said the state has already seen heavy usage of the existing express lanes, just through the number of Peach Passes that have been issued for people to use the toll lanes,” the Gwinnett Daily Post noted. “He said nearly 690,000 active Peach Passes have been issued since the first express lanes opened on I-85 in Gwinnett in 2011.”

McMurry underscored the need for congestion relief by pointing to Gwinnett County’s fast-growing population.

Population Growth Means More Express Lanes

“When I think about one million people in one county in this great state, we need to remind ourselves that there are six states that are smaller than that in population, plus the District of Columbia,” he said. Ongoing growth will bring new transportation demands and continuing efforts to fight congestion.

McMurry noted that the annual Inrix survey had recently ranked Atlanta the fourth most congested city in the U.S.

“We don’t want to be on that top 10, so we’ve got some great things that are coming forward,” he told the Gwinnett Chamber. “That future is part of a major mobility investment program, and really, that future is a lot of new capacity in express lanes.”

Click here to view the presentations from IBTTA’s AET, Managed Lanes & Technology Summit, April 22-24, 2018 in Charlotte, NC.

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