By on October 19, 2011

Georgia’s introduction of high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes on Interstate 85 at the beginning of the month has already turned into a public relations disaster. During rush hour, motorists found themselves stranded in the general purpose lanes as the adjacent HOT lane — constructed and maintained with their tax dollars — were essentially unused. Drivers balked at paying the stiff $5.40 entrance tax for permission to enter, leaving the existing lane space to go to waste. Governor Nathan Deal (R) intervened swiftly on October 6 to order the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA) to lower the cost of using the toll lane.

“Looking at what we’ve learned from our first four work days with the HOT lanes, I’ve asked SRTA to improve utilization of the express lanes,” Deal said in a statement. “In the short term, the toll rate will lower — starting with Thursday afternoon’s commute — but the effective rate will continue to change to regulate speed and volume.”

The HOT lanes idea was hailed from the start as an important advance in the region’s transportation network. Using $110 million in federal gas tax dollars, a system of gantries was set up requiring drivers to install an electronic transponder, called the Peach Pass, if they wished to pay to use a 15-mile stretch of the freeway that previously had been set aside as a high-occupancy vehicle (HOV), free for the use of anyone carrying an extra passenger in his vehicle. The change to the HOT format was hailed as a proven concept.

“The opening of the I-85 Express Lanes will represent a new era in transportation innovation,” SRTA Executive Director Gena L. Evans, said on September 16.

After the project actually opened for business, motorist Howard Rodgers quickly racked up more than 1500 electronic and hardcopy signatures on a petition calling for a halt to the HOT lanes.

“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 petition states. “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.”

Deal forced state officials to ask the Federal Highway Administration for permission to allow vehicles with two, as opposed to three, people on board to use the express lanes for free. I-85 is not the only HOT lane to fail. In Washington State, the State Route 167 HOT lanes are on their third year in operation. According to the third-quarter financial results, it cost $173,939 more in toll collection expenses to operate the lanes than was generated in revenue in fiscal 2011.


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27 Comments on “Georgia HOT Lanes Create Congestion, Disappointment...”

  • avatar

    Talk about an exercise in futility. Everyone hates it; it doesn’t work, and it costs more money to operate than it takes in. But you know, politicians…

  • avatar

    … What was so bad about the HOV lanes that they had to do this?

    • 0 avatar

      The HOV lanes didn’t have “free” federal money to make the change, or the stars-in-their-eyes promise of more revenue. That federal money is why the NOT (oops, typo!) lanes require 3 people in the car to get a free ride, provided of course that you tell the system 15 minutes before-hand that your transponder is free for that ride.

      I also think this was viewed as something to get sheeple used to needing the Peach Pass for toll roads all over the state. It works on the heavily used GA400, which had its toll removed for a few days to satisfy the promise that it would only be a toll road until the bond was paid off. And then of course a “new” toll was applied to pay for “new” projects.

  • avatar

    I avoid I85 outside the perimeter anyway, so this doesn’t affect me personnaly, but a couple guys that work for me have to deal with this increased constriction in traffic. We have all felt this was more a grab at additional cash rather than some way to get traffic managed better. This will end up created more pollution as people sit idle. It won’t add to the city coffers either as no one wants to pay. I imagine a politician or two will be losing an election based on this fiasco.

    • 0 avatar

      I saw not one car using it entering Atlanta or returning to Greenville (though it wasn’t during rush hour). But my question is why does it end so far from downtown? I think it ends before I-285. It doesn’t even seem to get you through, but rather just to, the worst of the congestion.

      Oh, and let me mention what a PITA this will be next time the family has to head to Shreveport since even though there might be five of us, there’s no way for us to pay the toll for just that trip and there’s no other reasonable way to get to Birmingham.

      • 0 avatar

        A lot of the traffic heads towards 400 or I20 (not even close to all), but enough to make it manageable.

        On your second point though, you dont’t think they would pass up the opportunity to get your money do you? No way! You can just go to the web site in advance of your using the lane to get the RFID chipped Peach Pass sent to your home.

    • 0 avatar

      Huh? How do they head for 400 or I-20 before I-285?

      Anyway, $25 minimum for an occasional club trip or to see the nephew who’s trying to either get out of the Air Force or get transferred to Little Rock? Nah, I’ll pass on the Peach Pass.

  • avatar

    If I were a municipal politician, urban planner, or DOT official, I would look to the Metro Atlanta area for a succinct example of what NOT to do to encourage quality of life for my community.

  • avatar

    A different high priced system works – for the most part – in Toronto (which rivals ATL in traffic congestion). The 407ETR, however, is a completely separate highway. Privately run (with approximately the same corruption level as the attempts at similar hwy systems in TX) but it is effective and does get used. HOV lanes on the main ‘free’ Hwy 401 & 403 corridors have helped as well. Canadians are used to getting hosed so the $5.40 charge in Toronto would be fine…In ATL, not so much.

    • 0 avatar

      Toronto’s ETR works because there’s no HOV component. If your time is valuable, you can choose to pay without having to put blow up dolls in your passenger and back seats…

  • avatar

    Experts are often exposed as ignorant once reality is injected into their models. The key here was to have the urban planners and transporation experts experience I-85 congestion enough to better understand what drivers are feeling and when they have those feelings. The experts also needed to have done a better job researching the price points drivers would be willing to pay. These experts needed to have better understood the ramifications that would effect current traffic flows due to the model they intended to implement. They also needed to have done better research to recognize the failures of their traffic designs when implemented in similar locations.

    Instead the focus was to do something. There was a push to spend borrowed money before that funding was no longer available. There were more assumptions than concrete answers in the design phase. The experts utilized a design that only worked in their theoretical world.

    Consequently, millions have been wasted implementing the wrong design, at the wrong price, at the wrong costs, at the wrong time. At this time, the experts aren’t quite certain how they went wrong because they never asked the right questions to understand how their design could go wrong – so they are no help now. The politicians involved in authorizing the funding and project oversight don’t know what to do because they depended upon their chosen experts. The fiscal gun had been fired, the target has been missed, and now they are out of bullets while the problems have worsened.

    Being an expert in a narrow field of study does not qualify one into being an expert outside that field. Societies that put their faith in experts are always disappointed when those experts fail to have the humility to know when their expertise ends and reality intrudes. Just as Medieval serfs looked to Latin-quoting monks to better understand crop failures, too many of today’s citizens are looking to the wrong people to better understand the challenges of today. In both cases it is vital that we recognize the limits of those we depend upon for solutions and shun those who overstep the limits of their supposed expertise.

    Bad policies all around are the results.

  • avatar

    This will be coming to Southern California soon, and it will be a similar disaster, I’m sure–whereupon, instead of taking swift action to fix the situation, our local and state pols (or a substantial proportion of them) will lecture us about our own need to drive creating the problem instead of the HOT lanes and their implementation, and that this is a perfect example of why we should use mass transit, which in LA won’t get me anywhere I need to go, in anything close to adequate efficiency. (I’ll be retired before light rail is extended to LAX, and I’m not that close to retirement.)

    • 0 avatar

      I-15 north of San Diego has had this system for years. It works well, no one complains about it, and it has been extended. Calling for changes a few days after the system is implemented (as the GA governor is doing) seems premature…people’s commuting habits are hard to change, but they can change. Not everyone will find it worth $5.40 to get home earlier, but eventually enough will; if not, the price can be adjusted. The price on I-15 changes throughout the day according to demand.

      • 0 avatar

        The difference on I-15 is that HOV (2+) is always free, no need to notify before entering the lane. I use it almost every day and have never had to pay the toll because of that. Also, when traffic is especially heavy, there isn’t the option of paying, the HOV lanes go HOV only, no option to pay for single drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      In addition to I-15, they already have this arrangement on CA-91 between Orange/Fullerton and CA-241. HOV is always free and you can pay as a single occupant, the amount depending on the demand. It works rather well. The highest charges I’ve seen are over $8, but that is for a Friday evening at peak rush hour…..and people pay it!

  • avatar

    “Deal forced state officials to ask the Federal Highway Administration for permission to allow vehicles with two, as opposed to three, people on board to use the express lanes for free.”

    This makes it sound like the lanes still work as ordinary HOV lanes as well. So how is this increasing traffic congestion?

    • 0 avatar

      From the GA DOT website:
      Will everyone have to pay to use the HOT lanes?
      No. Three person carpools, vanpools, motorcycles, Alternative Fuel Vehicles, and transit will be able to use the HOT lanes without paying. Vehicles not meeting occupancy requirements will be able to use the lanes for a fee that will be set to ensure free-flowing traffic and reliable trip times in the HOT lane. Drivers will be informed of the cost before they get into the HOT lane so that they can make informed travel choices. Travel in the adjacent regular general purpose lanes will remain free for drivers at all times.

      What Deal actually did:
      Deal also pledged Thursday to ask the federal government for a waiver allowing two-person vehicles to use the lanes free. That request could run afoul of a legal requirement that the HOT lanes flow at 45 mph or better.

      So Deal has done nothing but talk so far. Let’s see what happens here.

  • avatar

    We here in Washington St have an HOT lane on highway 167 and people here DO use it.

    That lane, to use it requires an on/off transponder so if you are carrying other people with you, it’s an HOV lane, free to use, but if you are a solo driver and want to USE the lane, you gotta pay or you’ll get ticketed.

    And they vary the rate from something like $1.25-1.50 for the least congested times and I think it tops out at $5 at the peak traffic.

    Seems like in ATL, they simply made it one lane or the other and thus the free HOV portion was eliminated, making it strictly a high occupancy toll and that won’t fly with many motorists.

    I’m not saying what we have here is perfect but at least people DO use it and can get into and out of that lane at various points to rejoin regular traffic, especially if they are getting off at a nearby exit.

  • avatar

    HOT lanes are a direct-line result of NOT raising the gas tax since 1998. People cry about the gas tax, so it stays unsustainably low. Politicians run out of money to fix roads and come up with crackpot schemes to make up the difference, and ideas like this are born. It might be the best idea in the world, but in the US of A, the average person will stand on-line for 20 minutes at Wal-MArt to save $0.15 on a tube of toothpaste, there’s no way they’re gonna actually PAY to use a road when they get it for nigh-free by driving a Prius.

    • 0 avatar


      A third of the federal gas tax is diverted to public transit. Much of what’s left goes to megabuck patronage projects like the 20 billion dollar big dig. And social engineering experiments like this one – on the ledger this is 110 million dollars in federal road improvements.

      Closer to home, my state diverted 2 billion dollars out of the transportation fund over the past three years and spent it on the teachers’ union instead. Now, of course, there isn’t road money and this shortfall can only be solved with a 15 cent gas tax hike, titling tax hike, registration tax hike, emissions tax hike, etc.

      The only thing toll lanes are a direct result of is Leviathan spotting a vein that doesn’t have a needle in it yet.

  • avatar

    Wow they gave it 4 whole days to change millions of commuters travel patterns and mindsets..

    I would think that it would take months before anything like this could have any sort of positive impact.

    My response would be to tell all the people complaining about sitting stuck in traffic is to buy a HOT pass and use the empty lane.

    I love when people who dont use something complain that no one uses something. Like all the people who jumped on Google+, never posted anything, then complained that there is nothing on Google+.

  • avatar

    EZPass: lame
    Fastrak: booorrring
    Peach Pass: ADORABLE!!!!!

  • avatar

    Call me a communist, but I have NO problem at all with toll roads. Users should pay directly for thier road use. Works out great for a state like Maine where a HUGE percentage of the traffic is from out of state.

    If you are a local you can get a commuter pass and pay a flat rate for three months between any two exits. I pay ~$30 every three months for unlimited use in the area that covers 95% of my turnpike use. Saves me a small fortune vs. the individual toll, but all those out-of-staters pay, pay, pay. Don’t want to pay? Rt1 is free but I hope you have plenty of time to kill.

    Of course I am in favor of mileage-based road tax too.

    • 0 avatar

      That sounds like a great system you have up in Maine, but no toll road I’ve been near has ever worked like that. I spent 5 years in Orlando using their toll roads, and the discount for heavy usage they provided was about 5%.

      As a resident of the I85 corridor impacted by this, I want to clarify some things for my fellow TTAC’ers. First, it can be used as a 3 person HOV, but they make it very difficult. You have to log into the Peach Pass System no less than 15 minutes before your “arrival” and notify them that you have high occupancy. Talk about a system designed to screw people.

      Second – this isn’t a toll added on new roads built under the system, as in Orlando, Houston, Dallas, etc. They took an existing lane that was in use, and converted it to charge people up to $8 for 15 miles (the governor claims that they have lowered the price now but I haven’t seen any firm results). I85 was already a mess before the lane, and now they made it significantly worse. The concept is simple – removing a lane from general use, increase traffic. Duh. I know people whose commutes are 45 minutes longer each way as a result of the change. I had already avoided I85 because of the traffic and I’ve seen my commute lengthen because many other drivers are hunting alternate routes.

      I personally have no issue with new roads built and supported by tolls. I fully support it. Where I get pissed is taking existing roads and turning them into tolls (here, or what the Governor of Penn. has been trying to do for years) or create a toll road and making it inconvenient to use alternate routes so that people are forced to use the toll road (Austin in the early 2000’s).

      • 0 avatar

        “I know people whose commutes are 45 minutes longer each way as a result of the change. ”

        45 minutes *longer*? Jebus man, they should move closer to work, or work closer to home. Or – if that makes too much sense – buy the pass and use the empty lane, then their commute might be *faster*.

        Anything longer than 30 minutes and I would just take transit – even if transit takes even longer. That way I could sleep, read, play games on my phone, or crack open the laptop and get work done. When driving a car you are held hostage to the steering wheel and brake pedal. (Not that needing to steer or brake stops anyone from doing that stuff while driving… People are crazy!)

        I would like to see *all* freeways turned into toll roads. In the USA we do not come anywhere near paying the full cost of building, maintaining, and using roads. People think they are “free” and “a right”. If we had to pay the full costs of our driving, people would do much less of it. But that is just my *opinion* – people are free to disagree. :)

      • 0 avatar

        @valkraider: “they should move closer to work, or work closer to home…”

        Easier said than done. When I lived in metro Atlanta, the wave of population moving out into the surrounding suburbs and counties was impressive, I’m sure it remains the same today.

        One day, I have one of the first houses in a subdivision, (seemingly) the next day the whole subdivision is completed and the requisite shopping mall is being built, too.

        It’s not like you can just pick up and leave the area your home is in, particularly if you own. It’s one thing when you’re a renter, but it’s a different story if you’re putting down roots.

        Or what happened to me. I went from a nice 20 min ride on the MARTA train to get to work to a 1.25 hr commute because the company moved locations. I didn’t want to go from Henry County to Gwinnett county every day, but that’s where my job was. It was a good paying job, with lots of benefits, too. Really hard to let that go when you have responsibilities beyond yourself.

        I eventually did leave for an even better job (ask me why I miss the 1990’s), and through good luck it was on my side of town.

        Not everyone has that kind of choice…

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