Friday, November 22, 2013

Goodbye, Ga. 400 tolls!

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2013 at 3:25 PM

Gov. Nathan Deal puts two quarters into the final toll on Ga. 400. He paid with a 1993 quarter and a 2013 quarter, representing the first and last years of the toll plaza.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Gov. Nathan Deal puts two quarters into the final toll on Ga. 400. He paid with a 1993 quarter and a 2013 quarter, representing the first and last years of the toll plaza.
Linda and Mike Weinroth were the first couple to ever pay a Ga. Highway 400 toll in 1993. This afternoon, they became the last people charged to drive up the state road.

Under gray skies, the couple's black sedan cruised through the booth to toss the final two quarters on Ga. 400. Soon after, the highway's toll arms went up and road workers waved drivers through the plaza, sans payment.

At today's ceremonial event, Gov. Nathan Deal told reporters and special guests that he had promised to remove the tolls during his 2010 campaign. Last March, the State Road and Tollway Authority announced that the change-collecting kiosks would be no more.

"Commuters here have paid this toll long enough," he said.

Gov. Nathan deal addresses the media outside the Ga. 400 tollbooth.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Gov. Nathan deal addresses the media outside the Georgia 400 tollbooth.
The tollbooth, which first went up in 1993 to finance Ga. 400's extension into the Perimeter, helped connect Atlanta to north Fulton County. Twenty years later, the toll road had averaged an estimated 120,000 daily motorists.

The golden goose had proved unkillable for years as the toll stayed open. The state kept collecting quarters for additional Ga. 400 corridor projects at a rate of about $55,000 daily.

The state had borrowed money against toll collections as far out as 2017. But by paying off its debts now, Deal estimates that the state would save $1.3 million in interest payments.

"We're in a position to be able to pay off those bonds and the extensions that have been created over the years," he said.

According to SRTA, some of that money raised against future revenue is financing new connector ramps from Ga. 400 southbound to I-85 northbound in Buckhead to help clear up traffic around Sydney Marcus Boulevard. Those improvements are set to open in mid-January.

Gov. Nathan Deal looks at his notes before stepping to the podium.
  • Joeff Davis
  • Gov. Nathan Deal looks at his notes before stepping to the podium.
Elected officials from north of the booth came to the ceremony to add their applause.

"There's been promises made and now promises kept," said state Rep. Wendell Willard, R-Sandy Springs.

One day before the Ga. 400 toll came down, the feds announced they would pony up a low-interest $275 million loan to help Georgia build reversible toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties. But the Ga. 400 toll road, Deal says, is different because it wasn't built to raise general revenue.

"I think you have to ask the question: is that the way to raise revenue, on a select group of people who have to use this corridor to go back and forth to work or whatever?" Deal said.

The governor added: "Obviously it was intended to be used for the purposes of developing this [Ga. 400] corridor. We think we have done all of those projects up to this point in time and it has more than paid for itself, it's past time to take it down."

The view underneath Ga. 400s 14 toll lanes. The tunnel allows toll collectors to get to their booths without crossing traffic. The tunnels will remain after the toll booths are removed.
  • Joeff Davis
  • The view underneath Ga. 400's 14 toll lanes. The tunnel allows toll collectors to get to their booths without crossing traffic. The tunnels will remain after the toll booths are removed.
The removal of the actual tollbooths and conversion of the road into a normal three-lane segment of highway is a little more time-consuming, said SRTA Executive Director Chris Tomlinson. The road remains hollow underneath its pavement, pierced by a tunnel that workers use to get to their booths. It was designed as a toll plaza, not as a road that had a toll plaza added as an afterthought.

"The road was never...completed, if you will," Tomlinson said.

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