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OP-ED: The “Not so Hot” GA 400 Toll Lane Idea

John Albers, R-Roswell, gives his take on toll lanes, which would run through Sandy Springs.

 

By State Sen. John Albers

There is only one roadway in the entire state that features a fixed-rate toll - GA 400. This 24-mile stretch of interstate, which connects North Georgia to metro Atlanta, was funded entirely through a combination of toll revenues and state and federal bonds. In 1991, the State Roadway Tolling Authority board approved the sale of $96.1 million in bonds to build GA 400.

Despite the fact that these bonds were paid off last summer, SRTA decided to extend toll collections for another decade, causing motorists to foot the bill for additional infrastructure projects.

The ongoing debacle of the toll road was further exasperated when the Georgia Department of Transportation initiated which is estimated to cost taxpayers roughly $2.8 million. This study was designed specifically to determine whether the public is receptive to the idea of incorporating additional managed toll lanes.

With the recent implementation of HOT lanes along the I-85 corridor, motorists are still unsure about the significant cost incurred from using these lanes, which has skyrocketed to upwards of $4 during peak traffic hours.

If these high occupancy lanes were put into place on GA-400, commuters would still have to pay a fee to fund the expansion, plus an additional fee on top of it to use the road. The 85 HOT lanes have already cost a lot of money to convert - this would be even more of a blow to taxpayers. Can we really afford to spend more money on infrastructure that hasn't been proven successful on other roadways around the state?

The 85 HOT lanes cost taxpayers nearly $60 million to build – just to convert a lane within the pre-existing infrastructure. The Georgia Department of Transportation’s proposals for GA 400 include the addition of an entirely new lane, which would ultimately be much more expensive than converting a lane.

This is unacceptable during a time when unemployment is still high and Georgians are looking for ways to cut spending. With gas at an all-time high heading into the summer months, the last thing Georgia taxpayers need is to be saddled with an additional tax increase.

As part of the recent feasibility study, state transportation officials are currently holding public hearings throughout the GA 400 corridor to discuss the possible creation of electronically-tolled express lanes. Although I’m pleased to hear that state transportation officials are seeking input from North Georgia commuters, I believe we are leaving out one of the major cities along this busy corridor – Alpharetta. With five exits along GA 400, the City of Alpharetta should be directly involved in determining the fate of future toll projects.

GDOT notes in its presentation for the upcoming open houses that if the study does move forward into development of a proposed project, there currently is no funding identified for right-of-way acquisition and construction. Even with the tolling component, there may be insufficient funding to build any improvements.

We all agree additional capacity is needed on GA 400, but not at the expense of those living within the GA 400 corridor.  Where is the mandatory toll for I-75, I-20, I-85 or GA-316? Why do our communities have to pay for their road and nobody else in the state?

The extension of the toll in 2010 was an unconscionable breach of public trust which is paramount in these discussions. The extension occurred months before I took office in 2010 and I was disappointed that I was unable to stop it sooner. The answer is simple – remove the GA 400 toll, then we can have a good discussion about adding capacity and options for funding our transportation needs all over Georgia.

 

 

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