Reducing traffic congestion on I-85 is the goal behind the first interstate toll lanes running through DeKalb County, which will officially open on Oct. 1.
“We’re trying to use carpools as much as we can,” said Gena Evans, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA). “We want three people in a car or more.”
Approximately 16 miles of existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes have been converted to tolled express lanes from Chamblee Tucker Road in DeKalb County and ending at Old Peachtree Road in Gwinnett County.
Vehicles with one or two people will be tolled at a rate of between 10 and 90 cents per mile, depending on congestion.
“The toll will be dynamically priced,” Evans said. “It will rise and fall with congestion in the corridor. This tolling project is a demand management strategy.”
Evans said the average trip in the corridor is approximately six to seven miles and the average trip is estimated to cost approximately $5-6.
Toll rates will be recalculated and displayed on changeable message signs at each express lane entry point at least every five minutes, 24 hours a day.
Toll-exempt vehicles will include transit vehicles, carpools with three or more passengers, motorcycles, alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) with proper AFV license plates and emergency vehicles.
An estimated 27 percent of the users will be toll exempt, Evans said.
Unlike Ga. 400, there will not be a toll booth on I-85. Instead, drivers in the express lanes are required to have a Peach Pass, a thin, electronic sticker which will be read by devices along the highway. Drivers can also use Ga. 400 Cruise cards on the express lanes.
“It’s real simple,” Evans said. “Go online. Register to get your Peach Pass. Tell them whether you’re going to be toll-paying or toll-exempt. And then, put it on your windshield and get it and go.”
Evans said 50,000 Peach Passes have already been issued.
The 16-mile stretch will be patrolled by six dedicated officers equipped with automatic license plate readers which will alert officers to possible violations.
The corridor will also be monitored by cameras that will read license plates. A bill will be automatically mailed to drivers using express lanes without Peach Passes.
Fines for express-lane violations are $25, plus the cost of the toll. Drivers pulled over by a law enforcement officer may face additional fines. Some violations include entering or exiting the express lanes by crossing the double white pavement striping, using the lanes without a registered Peach Pass and using an exempt status but driving in the lanes with one or two occupants in the vehicle.
The I-85 corridor is the ninth area in the United States to install the barrier-free express lanes. The lanes are part of a pilot program and are partially funded with federal dollars.
Unlike the toll on Ga. 400, which is used to pay for the road, the I-85 express lanes are not expected to be money-makers.
“This is strictly to reduce congestion,” Evans said. “These express lanes typically don’t make money across the country. They just barely break even, if that much. I don’t see us making a whole lot of money on this thing.”