Complaints about Minnesota's first High Occupancy Toll lanes led to changes
ATLANTA -- Thursday afternoon, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal announced plans to lower tolls in the new I-85 Express Lane and make other changes in the wake of customer complaints.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: I-85 Express Lanes
As chairman of the State Road and Tollway Authority, the governor has admitted some changes are probably needed after just four days of operation.
"We recognize there have been some inconveniences. We have actually sold more of the passes then comparable states have done at the same point and time with their transition," Deal said in Columbus Thursday. "But still there are some inconveniences and we want to work through it as quickly as we can and we hope to have an announcement of that regard very soon."
Commuters have complained the varying fees are too expensive and confusing. Many have also complained there are not enough places to enter and exit the pay express lanes.
"Looking at what we've learned from our first four work days with the HOT lanes, I've asked SRTA to improve utilization of the express lanes," Deal said in a statement. "In the short term, the toll rate will lower - starting with Thursday afternoon's commute - but the effective rate will continue to change to regulate speed and volume."
State Road and Tollway Authority Executive Director Gena Evans told 11Alive's Paul Crawley Thursday afternoon that they would be moving to lower the toll and make other changes to the system governing the Express Lanes.
Evans said the authority would recalculate the toll formula for the Express Lane based solely on the number of vehicles using the lane at any given point in time. Previously, traffic counts from the general purpose lanes were included in the toll calculation.
This marks the fourth time this week that the formula has been recalculated, Evans said, but the first time that only traffic counts from the Express Lanes have been used.
Gov. Deal will ask the United States Department of Transportation to grant the state of Georgia a waiver on the number of people permitted to ride in the HOV lane - presently, there is a minimum of three people permitted (HOV 3). If the governor's request is granted, the number would drop to two (HOV 2).
The State Road and Tollway Authority said they will be adding another southbound access point to the Express Lane. A major complaint, Evans said, was that there were too few access points to the lane. She said the authority has not determined yet, exactly where the access point will be, but she said, it will be within the first few miles of the Express Lane. There are presently six access points for southbound traffic, the new one will bring that total to seven. Northbound traffic already has seven access points; she said there are no plans to add any additional exits for northbound traffic.
The new access point will not show up right away; she said the Georgia Department of Transportation will have to physically put the exit in place and build the infrastructure necessary to get it up and running.
Toll rates are also expected to drop as more people buy the Peach Pass and use the Express Lanes, according to Evans. She said the office of the State Road and Tollway Authority has been swamped with requests from people wanting to buy the Peach Passes. The state's target has been to distribute 170,000 Peach Passes; so far, they have sent out a total of 75,000. Evans said that number has been growing at a rate of about 1,700 per day.
The governor's office said a formal announcement of these changes would be coming out Thursday afternoon.