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I-85 Express Lanes face first rush hour test

6:59 PM, Oct 3, 2011   |    comments
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  • A bird's eye view of the I-85 Express Lanes from the Indian Trail overpass.
  • I85 Express Lane tolls
    

ATLANTA -- The new Express Lanes on I-85 in parts of Gwinnett and DeKalb counties got their first real test during the Monday morning rush.

RELATED: I-85 Express Lane FAQ

After months of construction and weeks of testing, the toll lanes officially opened just after midnight on Saturday with a starting toll of $1.55 for the entire 15.5-mile ride from Old Peachtree Road to Shallowford Road.

As of 7:30 a.m Monday, the full ride was $4. It got as high as $5.50, toll officials said Monday afternoon.

For those who ponied up the cash or had three or more people on board, the Express Lanes seemed to work. During the peak morning commute, between 7:30 and 8:45 a.m., it took motorists in the Express Lanes on 14 minutes to travel the entire 15.5 miles. That was 33 minutes faster than travelers in the general lanes of traffic.

During a news conference Monday afternoon, officials said they were still studying the Express Lanes' impact on traffic. They did not provide a count of the number of cars in the lanes during the morning rush, but did say they expect to see more people using the lanes as they learn more about them.

Finding motorists who are critical of the Express Lanes existence and how they work hasn't been difficult. Several people posted to 11Alive's Facebook page, sharing their displeasure, complaints and suggestions for improvement.

"As we've seen in other openings, we expect people will need two to three weeks to a month to get used to it, to understand how the system works," said Gena Evans, Executive Director of the State Road & Tollway Authority.

Several fans of 11Alive on Facebook suggested that more entry/exit points be added to the lane, giving people more opportunities to use the lane.

Officials said Monday that they would be studying the lanes' effectiveness over the next six to eight months, and make improvements based on those observations.

Every driver will need a Peach Pass or Cruise Card to use the Express Lanes, if you're part of a carpool or live out of state.

The toll will range from 10 cents to 90 cents a mile. The starting toll on Saturday was the lowest possible.

Only a handful of drivers used the Express Lanes early Saturday since traffic in the other lanes was moving well. There was no need to pay extra to avoid congestion. At around 6:30 a.m Monday, there still weren't many cars in the Express Lanes, even though traffic was building.

The toll will go up or down depending on volume in the other lanes.

The Express Lanes come with designated exits. Drivers who try to exit early by crossing the double-white lines will automatically get a $25 fine. That fine could go up to $150 if they're spotted by law enforcement.

"We've been asked if there will be a grace period for double-white-line-crossing," Evans said. "There will be, and our officers will be there to make sure people understand the use of the roadway."

Drivers can register and receive a Peach Pass in person at one of three locations: 

  • SRTA 47 Trinity Avenue SW Atlanta
  • DDS 2211 Beaver Ruin Road in Norcross
  • DDS 310 Hurricane Shoals Road NE in Lawrenceville 

The customer service centers are open Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and on Saturday from 7:30 a.m. to noon.

Drivers can also apply for a Peach Pass at www.peachpass.com or by calling 1-855-PCH-PASS. It will take 7 to 10 days to receive you pass in the mail.

You must start with $20 in your account. An additional user will require an extra $10. The tolls will be deducted from those amounts.

11Alive Commuter Dude John Gerard put together of a list of other things drivers need to know:

  • You must obtain a Peach Pass (peachpass.com) OR have a current Cruise Card to use the Express Lanes, even if you qualify for carpool.

  • Prior to using Express Lanes, select your toll status (either 'Toll' or 'No Toll') at Peachpass.com or by calling 1-855-PCH-PASS 15 minutes prior to using the lanes. (We recommend doing this online to avoid distracted driving and a time-consuming phone maze).

  • Use of Express Lanes is free for vehicles with three or more occupants. (Provided Peach Pass toll status is set to 'No Toll'). Two or fewer occupants will pay between .10 and .90 per mile depending on traffic volume. Toll amounts will be listed on electronic message boards.

  • Enter Express Lanes through dashed lines ONLY. If you cross the double solid lines, cameras will capture your license plate and you will receive a $25 fine in the mail. If a patrol officer catches you, you could be fined up to $150.

  • Inside the perimeter, (excluding a small stretch around Chamblee Tucker Road) Express Lanes revert back to HOV lanes for vehicles with two or more occupants. Single occupancy vehicles are not allowed. Motorcycles are an exception.

  • Not all interstate exchanges provide Express Lane access. Be sure to plan your trip in advance to avoid getting 'trapped' in an Express Lane.

  • If you paid for a Peach Pass several weeks ago and still haven't received it, email commuterdude@11alive.com for help.

For additional information, visit www.peachpass.com.

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