The AJC’s Gridlock Guy brings us the news that during rush hour one morning last week, drivers paid $10.00 to drive in the HOT lane between Old Peachtree and Shallowford Roads on I-85. That’s the highest price charged to drive the stretch since the lanes opened up back in October, 2011.
When the prices made sharp increases in their debut week, Gov. Nathan Deal worked with the State Road and Toll Authority to limit that rise. Over the next couple of years prices steadily increased, finally reaching double digits in the past few days. SRTA raises the prices in the HOT lanes based on demand, with the idea of trying to maintain a speed that is faster than the other lanes on I-85.
SRTA has found the need to increase prices in the HOT lanes to at least $10 at the worst times of morning drive on I-85/southbound, meaning that demand for those lanes is likely more than ever. That is yet another indicator that traffic these days is as bad or worse than it ever has been in Atlanta. So keeping those HOT lanes moving at a reasonable speed is harder and harder.
The justification for changing from the previous HOV lanes on I-85, which let cars with two or more passengers ride in the dedicated lane, to the HOT lanes, which are free for drivers with three or more passengers, was that traffic volume in the HOV lanes meant riders using them made no better time than riders in the general lanes. By switching to a three passenger minimum or a toll that rose as demand increased, SRTA hoped to keep traffic moving at at least 50 MPH at all times.
Notably, the goal was not to raise money that could be used to pay for road construction and maintenance. In fiscal 2013, the cost of operating the lanes exceeded toll revenue by $1.7 million, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Instead, it was to provide reliable trip times for Gwinnett Transit and GRTA buses traveling to downtown Atlanta and back, carpoolers, and anyone willing to pay the toll.
As Charlie explains in another post, it is imperative to find new sources of funds to pay for needed maintenance and construction of Georgia’s highway system. The $10 toll on the I-85 HOT lanes is not the first step in that process. Instead, it is an indicator of how current capacity along the interstate isn’t enough to meet demand during peak commuting hours.