ATLANTA -- The new Express Lanes on I-85 opened over the weekend and faced their first test during Monday morning's commute.
Despite months of preparation, many commuters still had questions.
State Road and Tollway Authority spokeswoman Malika Reed Wilkins joined 11Alive News Today Monday morning for a live chat and answers.
Q: When will you have to pay to use the Express Lane?
A: The Express Lanes are open 24/7.
Q: Where is the Peach Pass sticker supposed to go in your car?
A: You can place your Peach Pass behind your rear view mirror about two inches down. If it's in that vicinity, you'll be fine.
Q: How much did this whole Express Lane project cost to put into place? How much do you expect the tolls to bring in every year?
A: The project cost is $60M, but we are currently under budget by about $5.6M. It's projected that the first year of operation will generate approximately $3.9M in revenue.
Q: Since we taxpayers have already paid for the construction of these lanes (along with federal funds), why should we be charged a 'user fee' for using them?
A: Actually once construction is completed on any roadway, the costs do not stop there. There are ongoing operations and maintenance costs throughout the life of the roadway, so it's never truly paid for. Also in that stretch of the highway there was not enough capacity to build new capacity. Building new capacity would have been great, but there is no room. And unlike a tax, the Express Lanes will only charge you when you use the roadway. You only pay when you use it -- essentially a true user fee.
Q: I've seen estimates that an extra 90 cars per hour will be thrown into each lane due to the HOT lanes. Is the state actually causing more backup on the interstate?
A: Early projections stated that there will not be a discernible impact to traffic on the general purpose lanes. About 250,000 vehicles use the corridor a day. Since we are now open, we are excited about getting more up to date data on traffic in the corridor.
Q: Is it expected that this project will actually reduce overall traffic on I-85?
A: The project is designed to keep traffic free-flowing in the Express Lanes and manage demand by variable pricing.
Q: So now you have to have 3 people in a car, not 2 like HOV?
A: You can actually use the Express Lanes if you have one or two passengers in the car.
Q: But to use the Express Lanes without charge you must have 3 passengers, whereas using the HOV lanes is OK with only two passengers?
A: Yes, to use the Express Lanes without a charge, you would need 3 or people in your vehicle and your Peach Pass set to the proper toll mode. You must have a Peach Pass account either way.
Q: How will I communicate if I have 3 people in the car so I am not charged?
A: You would either go online and log on to your Peach Pass account to change your toll mode or you can call us at 1-855-PCH-PASS. The good news is that you can set your toll mode for certain durations, and it will default back to "toll" when the time expires. You can also set it to "indefinitely" meaning you will always use the lanes with 3 or more people in your vehicle. There is an FAQ on our website about toll mode as well.
Q: How will the cameras along the way know if you have 3 people, especially with kids in the back seat who may be hard to see?
A: The cameras along the center median are not tracking occupancy. We have a partnership with the Dept. of Public Safety, where those officers will help us monitor occupancy. They have technology in their vehicle that alerts them when a vehicle rides in the Express Lanes that has its toll mode set at "toll-free," meaning three or more people. If they see otherwise, that person could get pulled over.
Q: Are motorcycles allowed in the Express Lanes, and do they have to pay, or are they exempt?
A: Motorcyclists are allowed in the Express Lanes free of charge (no toll) but they have to register for a Peach Pass account prior to using the roadway.
Q: What happens if there is something (i.e. a crash, emergency vehicle) blocking the Express Lane and you have to suddenly exit across the double lines. Would you still get fined? If so, what's the appeals process?
A: Safety is first in all accident and incident situations. If a motorist has to suddenly exit due to an accident, that motorist will not receive a violation notice. However in the event that they are sent a violation, they can just call us at 1-855-PCH-PASS and we will remove the violation.
Q: We travel to Alpharetta & take I-75, I-85N to 400N. Can we take the HOV lane, and if so, do we have to pay?
A: The Express Lanes are only from Chamblee Tucker Road to Old Peachtree Road. The HOV lanes are still in effect outside of that stretch.
Q: Will your Peach Pass function as a Cruise Card on 400?
A: Yes it will. You can use your Cruise Card or Peach Pass on GA 400 or the I-85 Express Lanes.
Q: Does the money you put on your Peach Pass expire?
A: No, it will stay there until you use the roadway.
Q: I am not sure when to enter the lane or how much I will pay.
A: You would enter the lane where there are dashed double white lines just as you do today on the HOV lanes.
Q: What is the maximum it would cost you to use the lane southbound the entire way?
A: The max is $0.90 per mile and you could X that by approximately 15.5 miles. Of course that would be the worst case scenario. ($13.85)
Q: Are there any plans to add more entrances to the Southbound Express Lane, particularly around Sugarloaf, where all the commuters come from Discover Mills?
A: GDOT is currently reviewing that area to determine if more access points are needed.
Q: What about people from out of town, who may not understand the system, passing through? Will they get fined if they stay in the Express Lane without a Peach Pass?
A: Motorists entering the Express Lanes stretch will see a plethora of signage before entering that will let them know "Peach Pass only." It is designed to be a GA commuter project, but folks will definitely see the signage so that they are aware.
Q: Which other cities has this been tested in? Were the results favorable pretty much everywhere?
A: The other cities include Houston, Miami/Dade, Denver, Salt Lake City, LA County, San Diego. The Express Lanes have been proven to provide reliable travel times.
For more answers to Express Lane questions, go to peachpass.com.