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HOV toll lanes: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Last month the Gwinnett Daily Post reported that a section of the I-85 high occupancy lanes in metro Atlanta would be converted to toll lanes.  The story was of particular interest to me because the section that will convert to toll lanes is from Old Peachtree Road to I-285.  That’s exactly the stretch of I-85 that I use every day to get to work. For the record, I carpool with a co-worker anywhere from two to four days a week (depending on schedules) and make use of the existing toll-free HOV lanes.

I’ve seen a few message boards on this topic and the general public opinion is overwhelmingly negative.  The poll question from the Gwinnett Daily Post last week asked readers if they were in favor of the lanes becoming a toll-lane.  A whopping 88% responded that they thought this was a bad idea. Here’s my take on this:

The Good

  • The government is continuously looking for ways to alleviate traffic burdens.
  • The government continues to encourage use of high occupancy lanes which both help the environment as well as reduce the overall traffic volume.
  • The government is basing this tactic from a study in California.  I’m still trying to think through statistics of use there, but at least they are looking to learn from similar programs already installed.
  • The grant includes $30 million to buy 36 new buses and expand commute parking lots.

The Bad

  • There’s a $110 million dollar grant from the Federal Government for this work.  Sounds like a good deal for some Georgians to take advantage of some free money.  But I’m left to wonder about the increased tax burden to others.
  • The state is required to match $37 million from it’s own piggy bank.  Where’s that coming from?
  • This is coming at a time when a major re-engineering effort to rework the I-85 / 316 split was recently completed.  The results of that project have been extremly successful.  Traffic flow has been noticeably better during peak hours.
  • The public is definitely not sold on this idea.  Just look at the commentaries being posted.  Most people feel that this is another tax ploy and is intended to benefit the wealthy more than those who are truly trying to conserve by sharing a car.   It’s being called the “Lexus Lane”.

The Ugly

  • As a regular user of the existing toll-free HOV lane I can tell you that on some days it doesn’t move any faster than than the standard lanes. Paying a fee for sitting in the HOV lane is no bueno.
  • Paying a fee for a 2-person carpool during peak hours will probably remove all of the financial incentive to saving on gas and maintenance costs. I see that having a negative impact on overall usage rates.
  • For Gwinnett County residents, this comes right after the county forced its residents to go a single (government chosen) waste collection service and after it brought a AAA baseball franchise to the county and stuck a bloated tax bill to residents.  The amount of government intervention in large financial decisions is starting to take its own toll on residents.
  • From what I’ve read, the technology to gauge your fee will be a device that is installed on or within your car that registers with sensors in the road.
    • It’s not clear how it works if you ride in the lane without a device.  (Enforcement)
    • So now the government can track my whereabouts in a car?  How do we know these devices are not sending other types of data?
    • I wonder what the installation and setup fee will be for the devices.

What are your thoughts?  Do you live in an area like this or will you be affected by the change on I-85 in the Atlanta area?