More Tolls? On I-75?

There are now going to be tolls on I-75 south. But the good thing is these aren’t the same kinds of tolls that the State, in it’s infinite wisdom, put on I-85. Instead these are new lanes being built to accommodate the swelling traffic needs and provide some relief.

Another difference is that these lanes are reversible. Which will be similar to the lanes up around the DC area that are built in the middle and change direction depending on time of day and traffic needs.

So two new lanes in between the existing lanes that will change direction depending on the needs of the interstate. Having been stuck on 75 between McDonough Road to state Route 138, i like the sound of this.

However, it does make me wonder. Is this how the state will build things from now on, or is there a better way to expand capacity within our fiscal constraints?

33 comments

  1. Joshua Morris says:

    Great. GDOT is using our money to build lanes that we can’t utilize without paying more once they’re built. And I guess no one who represents us has the guts to address why this is wrong.

    • sockpuppet says:

      The people who represent you lack the guts to address why this is wrong because there is no other way to raise revenue in a state dominated by the anti-tax attitudes created by the very people who represent you. The state is broke thanks to 3 recessions in the last 12 years (dot.com bust, 9/11 airline bust, mortgage/real estate/construction bust) that each hammered our only revenue engine (metro Atlanta) disproportionately. Also, the state showed little appetite for spending on big transportation projects even when times were booming and the coffers were flush with cash.

      The electorate is now convinced that anything worthwhile can either A) be done by the private sector or B) be funded entirely by eliminating “waste” and “pork” that the folks that you elected insist exists but can never seem to identify. And when Deal and company push through their regressive “tax reform” package this legislative session, there will be even less revenue for transportation projects (and everything else) until the national economy makes a giant turnaround, and even then there will be even less political support to spend the new revenue.

      • Joshua Morris says:

        Wow. All that over one question about building something with my money that I can’t freely use? Well, I guess you must miss those days when Roy Barnes and the democrats ran our state broke without the help of a recession.

        • SmyrnaModerate says:

          I think he means the party that was in charge when the state ranked 25th in per capita income and has now plummeted to 40th in the decade or so that Republicans have been in charge. I’m guessing the answer to this is somehow more tax cuts but that’s another thread…

  2. peachstealth says:

    I’m sure you know GDOT is funded by the tax on motor fuel (7.5 cents per gallon plus 3 of the 4% sales tax). That’s in addition to the 18.4 cent federal tax on gasoline and 24.4 cents on Diesel fuel When we buy more fuel efficient cars, less revenue goes to GDOT. Also remember you folks up in the Big City voted down TSPLOST.
    Perhaps we should tax ourselves by the number of miles we drive rather than by the amount of gas we buy. Personally I like user fees ( tolls) better than higher taxes.

    • Will Durant says:

      Lexus Lanes are not being built to generate revenue or even pay for their own construction a la traditional toll roads and bridges. Even GDOT and SRTA state this fact that they are not being built to bring in revenue. In fact, the I85 lanes so far are not even paying their SRTA operating expenses, never mind the conversion costs of $80 million for signage and sensors. Even the Lexus owners would balk if they had fork over the rate that would actually pay off the construction bonds similar to the original GA400 extension. Quite simply your mostly federal motor fuel taxes collected from the many are being used to subsidize an easier commute for the few.

      One of the largest fallacies in the pro-TSPLOST campaign was that HOT lanes were going to happen if it didn’t pass. It has been very evident in the future projections and so called public hearings by GDOT that HOT lanes were going to happen no matter what.

      Gena Evans and Sonny went hog wild mortgaging the future by issuing bonds to build 4 lanes to nowhere in the boondocks and expansive exit/entrance ramps for the Go Fish Museum, etc. This included over $2 billion in GARVEE bonds underwritten by what the state anticipated it would receive in future federal transportation dollars. HOT lanes are the easiest way to get those federal dollars with the least matching funds from the state.

    • Will Durant says:

      For singles and DINKs this works, but if you have school age children in the mix and cannot afford private schools then with rare exception OTP is the only viable choice.

      • heroV says:

        True. The few viable ITP options for the class of people you describe come with housing prices that are downright unaffordable if you want a single family home.

      • saltycracker says:

        WD, that’s my observation.
        What is also interesting is the shift\growth of job creation watching the volume on the main arteries of those living ITP and commuting to jobs OTP.

  3. Dave Bearse says:

    Unlike I-85, the I-75 toll lanes will provide substantial additional highway capacity that will reduce congestion for general purpose lane road users. That congestion reduction can be quantified, and it’s logical that general road taxes contribute to capital and operating costs accordingly.

    Unfortunately, the lack of quantification leads one to think toll lanes are a bust, i.e. a significant subsidy of the toll road by general road taxes.

    FYI transportation engineers value congestion delay at $10 – $30 per hour, depending on particular circumstances (for example, vehicle mix, and whether multiple persons per vehicle, operating cost, pollution cost, etc are included in the delay. (FWIW, transportation engineers commonly value a life at ~$4M.)

    • Will Durant says:

      But if you are not even meeting the cost of operating the lanes as a toll road then why not just add the capacity without the SRTA overhead? I would surmise that this is the only way in the current climate to get a suck from the federal teat.

      I’m fine with toll roads and bridges that pay for their construction, maintenance, and operations over a finite period of time. I’m not so fine with building additional lanes to existing roads with taxpayer dollars that will never be recovered by the tolls. In the case of I85 with the barrier-less system that has exacerbated traffic delays and loses more money with every day of operation it is ludicrous even beyond the normal politically inspired boondoggles of the past. How anyone could consider themselves a fiscal conservative and view this bureaucratic drain any other way is beyond my understanding.

      • Dave Bearse says:

        You’ve no argument from me when a toll road built to add capacity won’t earn enough to fund its operation. I don’t think that will be the case though, in part because economy of scale will reduce unit costs. (One of the problems with tolling is that toll roads / lanes is that compete with tax-subsidized roads / lanes that holds down demand.)

        The issue is how much of the $950M capital cost will be funded by tolls. Payments on that amount at 3% interest start out at nearly $30,000,000 a year excluding principal.

        • Will Durant says:

          Having attended the GDOT “public hearings”, which are really just a dog and pony trade show layout now, I can tell you that not one penny of any monies taken in tolls will be used to defray the cost of construction. SRTA will be happy if they receive enough in tolls to pay themselves, maintenance and other expenses. The construction costs are borne 100% by the taxpayers, federal and state. This is why I call it a subsidy. This is also why I get chagrined at the smug comments from those ITP stating that those of us in the ‘burbs are getting our just deserts. They are paying for the Lexus Lanes too!

          On a side note, even knowing from previous experience that no one from GDOT was actually there to hear the public I did attend one of the recent ones in Gwinnett for the extension of the I85 HOT lanes. As I said, they have changed the format with the primary advantage to GDOT that there is no way for any unfiltered comments from the public to make it to any official record. But we got this first with the article announcing the road show in the Gwinnett Daily Post:

          But people frustrated that the first project was a done deal before the public spoke last time around can be assured that input will be involved in this project, Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Teri Pope said. “There is a no-build option with this project,” she said, contrasting it to the first funded by a federal grant. “We’re coming out to the public to solicit their input.”

          The first of these presentations was March 21 of this year yet in an article published March 19 here: http://reason.org/news/show/georgia-managed-lanes-transportatio#sthash.hoC6mD7z.dpuf . GDOT Deputy Commissioner Todd Long states categorically “We have several projects. We are currently extending the I-85 lane from Old Peachtree Rd to Hamilton Mill Road….”

          Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

          • GTKay says:

            Some of the bonds sold for the I-75 project in Henry County must be paid back with toll revenue. A large portion of the I-75 N project in Cobb will be funded by bonds and loans that must be paid for by tolls.

            • mpierce says:

              O&M costs have exceeded toll revenue for I-85 toll lanes (thus less than nothing left to cover construction costs). What’s to prevent that from happening on I-75?

            • Will Durant says:

              Apparently they didn’t sell bonds at all for the Henry County project:

              http://saportareport.com/blog/2013/06/gdot-keeps-60-million-in-federal-highway-funds-by-minding-calendar/

              They just found more federal money lying around instead. “Hey commish lookie what I dun foun’ heah!”

              I can’t tell you how many GDOT and SRTA spokes types have told me personally that the tolls were to be “revenue neutral”. And there are quotes on here from GDOT to Mr. Brockway of same, dating back to the initial I85 roll out fiasco. They are on record that 100% of the I85 extension project is to come out of federal and state motor fuel tax monies.

            • GTKay says:

              Well, a lot of the costs were putting the tolling mechanism in place. Economies of scale will drive each transaction coast down.

              • mpierce says:

                Putting tolling mechanism in place – Those should be construction costs. Not operations and maintenance.

                Economy of scale – Yes it should drive transaction cost down. Hopefully down significantly.

                Bullet point from SRTA budget: “Second full year of I-85 Operations-moving from warranty period to full year of annual maintenance“. I wonder how that will affect the O&M costs going forward.

                I would like to see some projected O&M estimates for the system.

                • GTKay says:

                  Sorry, I was talking more about back room stuff. Setting up the systems that collect data, charge accounts, etc., which will be used to collect tolls for both I-75 projects through the Peach Pass. I don’t consider that construction.

  4. Rambler14 says:

    “Is this how the state will build things from now on, or is there a better way to expand capacity within our fiscal constraints?”

    For major projects, yes.
    It’s the only way GDOT can afford major projects due to the declining motor fuel tax revenue.

    400 is coming next! Get ready for the PR Campaign: “We’re tearing down the tollbooth AND adding new toll lanes!”

  5. echenault says:

    Can someone please explain to me why GDOT won’t invest in our railing system which could reduce the traffic on the highway rather than expanding the highway to accomodate more traffic.

    • Charlie says:

      Serious question: When you say “our railing system” do you mean the privately owned freight network or the public one that doesn’t exist yet?

      • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

        “Serious question: When you say “our railing system” do you mean the privately owned freight network or the public one that doesn’t exist yet?”

        …I think that echenault was referring to the imaginary one.

    • The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

      “Can someone please explain to me why GDOT won’t invest in our railing system which could reduce the traffic on the highway rather than expanding the highway to accomodate more traffic.”

      …Because the state is expecting the continued expansion at the Port of Savannah and an improving economy to generate much additional traffic on I-75 in the politically-crucial areas of Cobb and Henry counties and because there are substantial political, financial and logistical issues to be worked out before investment in rail transit can be an option.

    • Ken says:

      Because the population density in this state would make “our [imaginary] railing system” a black hole for public funds. I like the idea of trains, but the reality of trains is something that is not economically feasible.

  6. The Last Democrat in Georgia says:

    “However, it does make me wonder. Is this how the state will build things from now on, or is there a better way to expand capacity within our fiscal constraints?”

    …This is likely pretty much how the state will build things from now on and, unfortunately there likely is not a better way to expand capacity within our fiscal (and political) constraints.

    Here is a link to the $16 billion plan to build toll lanes across the Atlanta region:
    http://www.dot.ga.gov/Projects/studies/managedlanes/Documents/FINALREPORT.pdf

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