The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Georgia to join the HOT movement by 2010

HOV lane fees could start by 2010

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/20/08

Metro Atlanta cars with one or two people could be paying tolls to drive the area's HOV lanes in as little as two years, state officials said.

The state Transportation Board on Thursday passed a resolution to push the plan forward. While the measure does not give final approval to convert metro Atlanta's 45 miles of Interstate HOV lanes to a comprehensive system of "high occupancy toll" lanes, that is the direction the state is headed, said board leaders.

"The feeling I get from the board and certainly my personal feeling is that's where we're at," said Chairman Mike Evans.

The point is less about raising money than about creating at least one lane of the highways where drivers can find flowing traffic if they're willing to pay, Evans said, "giving our customers the confidence we can get them from point 'A' to point 'B.' "

The state Department of Transportation has been working for years on high occupancy toll, or HOT, lanes that allow single drivers to use the HOV lane if they pay a toll. But DOT board members have voiced reservations about so far piecemeal proposals like adding HOT lanes to Ga. 400 or I-20.

Instead, the resolution passed by unanimous voice vote Thursday moves toward a network. The board told its staff to recommend the best way to install and run a system of lanes that manage traffic flow by raising and lowering the toll price with congestion.

That plan could include tolling existing HOV lanes or building new ones. Most immediately, the resolution is to "give us the authority to look into, to investigate what it would take to convert the HOV lanes to HOT lanes," chief engineer Gerald Ross said in a presentation.

That converted lane system would be government-funded and managed, according to DOT spokeswoman Ericka Davis.

The state has applied again for federal funds to put tolls on I-85's HOV lane in Gwinnett County, an innovative proposal that would encourage "green" commutes by giving teleworkers and transit riders small credits towards free tolls. Georgia first applied for funding for that project last year. It made the short list but lost in the end. Some said one reason was the proposal wasn't a comprehensive solution.

And the state has filed an "expression of interest" with the federal government for help tolling all Atlanta's interstate HOV lanes.

Staffs at the DOT and the State Road and Tollway Authority are studying issues significant to drivers, like how much the toll would cost. One of the first HOT lanes, on S.R. 91 in California, charges about $1 a mile during the most congested time of day.

Other issues include where the exits and entrances should be, how to separate the lanes and how many passengers a car would need in order to qualify as a car pool and ignore the toll.

Cars with only two occupants would almost certainly have to pay the toll, and maybe three-person cars too. Stretches of the HOV system are already so congested that if two-person cars stay in for free there wouldn't be any room for the toll-paying solo drivers.

Installing electronic toll sensors on existing HOV lanes is by far faster and cheaper than building new lanes. Staff from DOT and the tollway authority told the board that while they expect the study to take 24 months to 48 months, they are optimistic it could fall on the low end of that scale.

DOT's new commissioner, Gena Abraham, is working on a comprehensive transportation plan, and she said that converting HOV lanes is only a piece of the toll network that could emerge from the agency's studies.

Private investment will almost certainly play a role in the plan. The proposals to build HOT lanes alongside Ga. 400 and I-20 envisioned private investment to be repaid by tolls. It's likely DOT will keep moving toward building new lanes with private funds, but the agency is re-evaluating whether to keep those specific proposals or go about it differently.

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