Don McKee: Cool reception for HOT lanes underscores flaws in this plan
October 12, 2011 12:14 AM | 2381 views | 6 6 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Don McKee
Don McKee
The new HOT lanes are not so hot, it seems.

Even after Gov. Nathan Deal went into near panic mode and lowered the prices on metro Atlanta’s first high occupancy toll lanes last week, the hoped-for flood of drivers in the “Lexus lanes” on Interstate 85 in Gwinnett County amounted to little more than a comparative trickle.

That throws a monkey wrench in the state’s plan to confiscate taxpayer-paid interstate lanes all over the metro area and turn them into money-generating operations. Deal said if the I-85 project fails, it might mean trouble looms for this wrong-headed approach to create possibly hundreds of miles of HOT lanes.

The toll lanes are touted as a way to reduce traffic congestion. But something went awry when the HOT lanes opened for business last week. Motorists didn’t race to pay for the privilege of riding on roadways already bought and paid for with their own tax money even if they might get to work or the mall a little sooner. Fewer than 5,000 vehicles a day used the HOT lanes, such a low volume that it threatens to upend this bad idea.

Faster than you could say “no to high occupancy toll lanes,” the governor cut the tolls, slashing the peak charge by about 40 percent to pull more drivers into the toll lanes. Deal also announced he was seeking a waiver on federal regulations requiring a three-person minimum per vehicle to use the HOT lanes without paying a toll. Deal wants the HOT lanes to have the same two-person minimum required in the also badly under-used high occupancy vehicle lanes.

“All of these actions are intended to increase the volume in the express lanes while maintaining its steady pace, relieve congestion in the all-access lanes, and encourage carpooling and use of the Peach Pass,” Deal said in a statement. (A Peach Pass is needed to pay tolls electronically.)

Deal said he’s “committed to finding transportation solutions that help Georgians get to work and back home to their families,” and he will “continue to monitor the situation.” What the governor didn’t say was that this bad idea will be junked. Too much money involved. “Millions of dollars,” his press spokesman said. Make that at least $110 million in federal tax money for the 16 miles of I-85 that’s been converted to HOT lanes.

Money is what this is all about, trying to coax enough drivers to pay to drive in the toll lanes to fill them to capacity and rake in lots of tolls for the state. But it’s patently wrong to charge tolls for lanes already paid for or being paid for by drivers. Worse, this is not going to make a serious dent in traffic congestion.

Here’s what would work better, as proposed here before: Do away with all the restricted lanes and restore them to free-for-all lanes. That would do more to relieve congestion than HOT or HOV lanes — and save millions if not billions of dollars.
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Last GA Democrat
October 13, 2011
Cobb County, beware! As the same idiots who brought you the HOT lane mess on I-85 to the tune of $110 million have plans on the books to bring an even bigger and more wasteful HOT lane mess to the I-75/575 Northwest Corridor for no less than a cool $1 BILLION, much of which is to be financed with funds from Cobb County's take of the pending regional TSPLOST.
October 12, 2011
Based on Atlanta's ranking as one of the most congested cities in the country it looks like the old approach of building more free lanes has worked really well? I love the idea of having an option to bypass congestion without having to carpool.

I don't believe the Express Lanes are a bad idea or a failure. They are an innovative idea in an area with only one other toll road that most I-85 drivers have probably never used.

Express lanes are highly successful in just about every other city where they have been implemented and the concept is expanding rapidly all over the country. It will just take time for drivers in Altanta to get used to the lanes and for the state to make some operational refinements. Give them time. They are one of the few bright spots in on our otherwise outmoded, overcrowded, underfunded and crumbling transportation system.
October 12, 2011
Well done, Mr. McKee. HOV lanes were supposed to be an inducement to people to travel in groups to work. It barely made a difference. Now, somehow it is supposed to make the ride to work easier by letting some people pay more to use a lane of traffic. The same number of people are trying to get to work but a lane has restricted use based on ability to pay. The same number of cars, fewer lanes - and that is an improvement? Oh, well, just more welfare for the wealthy, the only ones who benefit from the toll lanes all of us helped pay for.
October 12, 2011
Yes, we bought and paid for the roads, but maintaining them costs a lot of money. The current model of using the gas tax is antiquated and does not is projected to fall every year (better gas mileage in cars shorter distances to drive = not enough money for DOT). If anyone bothers to drive in other states, you'll notice toll roads all over the place. And, if you knew a THING about transportation, you would know that implementing something new like a HOT lane would go exactly as it has since day one. No one in the industry is surprised...this was expected. This will correct itself with time, as drivers see the empty lane and decide to use it. Perhaps someday legislature will have the cohones to change how transportation is financed instead of worrying about their jobs or, even worse, asking US to vote on how to finance it (TSPLOST). It would be great if our leaders would actually LEAD and make decisions that make sense, instead of passing the buck and asking voters to decide on such a complicated issue.
Pat H
October 12, 2011
The taxpayers already paid for those lanes, and are paying to maintain and repair them. If you want a tax to ride in them, makes sure the Peach Pass includes enough money to pay for maintenance and repair.

Obviously, politicians have free health care and great pensions so they cannot understand how the bottom has fallen out for those of us who work and pay for those benefits for politicians that we do not have for ourselves.
October 12, 2011
Yes headlines tourism drops buy 100 percent in Atlanta due to toll lanes and chocking traffic on interstate system. One tourist was interviewed and was mad he couldn’t even pay too much to ride in the toll lanes, next year we plan to drive through Atlanta between 10:00 pm to 03:00 am and not lose a day on our trip. Plus you want to tax me for an illegal TSPLOST tax on top of everything else we are tired of you born again Republicans that have all the sodalist agendas. All the small towns around the southeast will love this they’re going to get a lot of new residents in their communities!!

“Quit pimping yourself and us to Washington”

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