For those that don't live or frequently travel on the I-85 corridor north of Atlanta, all of the noise about the unpopularity of the new "HOT" lanes may be lost on you. A brief primer: with $11.7 million from the Feds, the Georgia Department of Transportation and Dekalb and Gwinnett counties recently converted HOV lanes on I-85 (formerly open to vehicles with 2 or more persons) into "high occupancy toll" or HOT lanes. While transit vehicles, motorcycles, alternative fuel vehicles and cars with 3 or more persons may use the HOT lanes for free, single or double occupancy vehicles must now pay for the privilege of traveling in the far left (and usually faster-moving) lane. A measure that was supposed to have had a positive effect on Atlanta traffic has thus far had the opposite...drivers have balked at signing up and paying for use of the HOT lanes, thereby slowing overall traffic to a crawl as cars that formerly used the HOV lanes are absorbed into the general flow. Governor Deal led a charge to lower the prices of the lanes after the initial outcry and light use. But anger over the change seems to be building...a petition to dismantle the lanes is now circulating online and on the ground in Gwinnett County.
· Signatures grow on Stop the HOT Lane petition [11 Alive.com]
The organizers of the petition drive admit the likelihood of the lanes being removed is low. But the series of events bears examination in the much larger context of where we're going in terms of transportation infrastructure, and the continued reckoning our society faces after decades of automobile-centric 'sprawl' development. Supporters of Georgia toll roads see them as inevitable and necessary changers of conduct. Opponents see them as taking money away from other road projects and unnecessarily placing the burden of addressing traffic problems on those that can least afford it. Either way, this is only the first project planned for Atlanta, up next is a stretch of I-75. And with decreasing revenues from the federal gas tax and well-documented shortfalls in government at every level, the issue of how our road infrastructure will be maintained in the coming years looms large among myriad other problems.