Ga. Motorists Show Little Interest in $840M Toll Lanes

The largest highway construction project in Georgia's history is notable in its lack of buzz.

Mon September 30, 2013 - Southeast Edition
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ATLANTA (AP) Georgia motorists don’t seem to be paying much attention yet to what will be the largest highway construction project in state history.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the state is a few months away from signing a final contract for $840 million to add optional toll lanes to Interstates 75 and 575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties.

The Georgia Department of Transportation Web site only received 10 public comments about the proposed bidders in July and less than 50 people attended two public information session. But officials said they expect the public to embrace the project once they learn more.

Work on the reversible toll lanes is supposed to start late next year and be finished by spring 2018.

Lois Brett of Woodstock told the Journal-Constitution she hadn’t heard about the 30 mi. (48 km) of toll lanes. "I probably wouldn’t use it unless there was a wreck and I had to because I had a screaming baby in the back seat," she said while taking her two children to the library.

Kennesaw State University students Jasmine Neville and Tia Mitchem said they couldn’t afford the toll lanes. "That’s my food money," Neville said.

The toll lanes are the state’s principal plan for alleviating congestion in the metro Atlanta area. Area voters last year rejected a penny sales tax to fund transportation projects, and officials say gas taxes aren’t enough alone to widen interstate highways without adding a toll.

The area on I-75 just south of I-575 is one of the most congested in the region, carrying about 200,000 vehicles a day.

When people talk about not using the future toll lanes, transportation officials point to the toll lane on I-85 from the Perimeter to Old Peachtree Road. Few people used the 16-mi. (25.7 km) stretch initially, but over time it became popular. The average cost for the trip is about $1.50, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

The new project will have two new reversible lanes hugging the west side of I-75 between I-285 and I-575. A single reversible lane also will be added in the I-75 center median north of the I-575 interchange extending to Hickory Grove Road, and on I-575 from where it branches from I-75 out to Sixes Road. A barrier will separate the lanes from the main road.

Cherokee County Commission Chairman Buzz Ahrens said the project will be an economic boon to the area and help alleviate traffic that has worsened with the opening of a 90-store outlet mall off I-575.

"It’s all positive," Ahrens said. “The only negative to it is that it’ll take a while to get done."