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NORCROSS: 1 change may not come quickly on I-85 Express Lanes

7:08 PM, Oct 12, 2011   |    comments
Some say the I-85 Express Lanes have clogged traffic rather than helped.
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ATLANTA, Ga -- A request for change on the I-85 Express Lanes is now in the hands of the U.S. Department of Transportation, but a spokesperson for the agency indicates change may not come right away.

At the request of Governor Nathan Deal, the State Road and Tollway Authority sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, asking for approval to allow vehicles with two people to ride in the new toll lanes for free. The U.S. Department of Transportation would have to approve the change since a 2008 agreement between the feds and the state of Georgia called for three or more in a vehicle to ride free in the Express Lanes.

"In a general sense, our inclination is to give the lanes some time to work," said U.S. Department of Transportation spokesperson Nancy Singer.

Since the Express Lanes opened on October 1, commuters on I-85 in Gwinnett County have complained that few drivers were using the lanes, and that traffic in the general lanes has been more congested than ever.

Last week, Governor Deal asked the tollway authority to lower rates along the toll lanes, and to pursue approval from the federal government to change the passenger requirements to ride free in the Express Lanes.

"All of these actions are intended to increase the volume in the Express Lanes while maintaining its steady pace, relieve congestion in the all-access lanes, and encourage carpooling," said Governor Deal.

The D.O.T.'s spokesperson said while the federal government has previously granted "operational changes" along High Occupancy Toll lanes in other states, it has never happened in a situation where the lanes have operated for only a couple of weeks.

"We want to be flexible and look at it," Singer said of Georgia's request. "We tend to lean on the side of giving the project a chance to work. It's premature to say yes or no either way."

A spokesperson said Governor Deal believes quick change would greatly improve usage of the Express Lanes.

"The Governor has acted quickly in implementing changes," said spokesperson Brian Robinson. "He's also proposed the idea of allowing two-person vehicles the chance to pay at a lower rate if that would help the case."

Singer acknowledged that Secretary Hood had received the tollway authority's request, and would respond directly to the letter.

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