Friday, August 27, 2010

Would you pay for a faster commute?

Posted By on Fri, Aug 27, 2010 at 1:01 PM

By next summer, Atlanta commuters with deep pockets will have a lane all to themselves on a stretch of I-85.


The state Department of Transportation will be closing parts of I-85 in a couple of weeks to begin construction on an electronic toll in the HOV lane that will run from just south of Spaghetti Junction in DeKalb County to Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County. It's called an HOT (high occupancy toll) lane, and it will give solo drivers the ability to ride in the HOV lane - at a price.

Drivers willing to pay a fee will be allowed to join the lane for the 14.3-mile stretch during peak hours when traffic is heaviest. The tolls will be charged electronically using overhead sensors that will ping transponders sent to drivers who have signed up for a "Peach Pass" account. Signs along the stretch will display the current price tag.

The amount will rise and fall with congestion in the main lanes, so the worse the commute, the more it'll cost you to avoid the jam. This means the prices will change moment by moment, but officials are estimating the computerized amount will vary between 10 cents and 90 cents per mile. They say it's designed to stay high enough so the traffic count is always low.

If you're in a two-person carpool, you'll have to pay up, too. The only ones allowed to ride free are registered carpools of three or more people, public transit vehicles, motorcycles, emergency vehicles and cars with alternative fuel license plates.

This will bring in between $3 million and $7 million in just the first year, according to a traffic and revenue study, but the state says the project's primary purpose is to provide rushed drivers with a lane that maintains free-flowing traffic. Under these estimates, paying 90 cents per mile at the most congested times would amount to a charge of $13 to travel its entire length. And this really adds up: driving in the HOT lane twice every weekday in top congestion would cost you a whopping $6,500 a year.

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