Years ago, state transportation wizards decided they would confiscate some of the previously open-to-all lanes along metro interstates and turn them into HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes restricted to vehicles with two or more passengers. The experiment failed because most metro commuters flat-out prefer solo driving. More cars had to squeeze into the non-HOV lanes.
So, faced with that failure — and most importantly, armed with a $110 million federal grant — instead of abandoning a bad idea, state road officials decided to fix things by turning 16 miles of the “free” HOV lanes on I-85 into toll lanes. The new HOT lanes charge fees varying with traffic density and require a minimum of three occupants per vehicle instead of two for HOV lanes.
The idea was to generate revenue from solo drivers able and willing to pay to move a little faster. That’s the purpose, pure and simple, hence the name “Lexus lanes.” But something happened on the way to the office. Lexus drivers didn’t flood the new toll lanes. Neither did many other drivers. Rush hour congestion worsened in the non-toll lanes.
Trying to fix the unexpected Lexus lack, Gov. Nathan Deal hurriedly slashed the peak toll charge and said he was asking for a waiver of federal regulations (remember, they come with federal dollars) requiring the three-occupant HOT lane minimum. He wants to go back to the old two-occupant rule, but that’s not going to happen.
The result: I-85 commuters are stuck worse than before. Commuter Howard Rodgers of Lawrenceville says his commute has doubled from about 45 minutes to almost 90 minutes, and he is heading a petition drive to make the state undo its wrong-headed decision. On his website stopthehotlane.com, he spells out what has happened:
“By removing the existing HOV lane for use as a toll lane the state has created daily traffic jams and backlogs causing greater pollution, increased travel times, and an extra tax on the citizens of Gwinnett County and points north during times of economic decline. The adjustable toll system amounts to a monopoly on the travel lane requiring customer to pay a higher surcharge (price gouging) for the ability to arrive to or from work in a timely manner.”
A lot of people in Gwinnett are hot over the HOT lanes. Last week, citizens opposing the toll lanes angrily walked out of a Republican town hall meeting at which state transportation officials defended the toll lanes but the people had no chance to speak, the Gwinnett Daily Post reported.
But not to worry. State officials said the same problems have resulted in four other cities that switched from HOV to HOT lanes. Interim transportation commissioner Gerald Ross assured: “As time went on, people got used to it.”
The message: Tough if you don’t like it. Just get used to it.