Truck-only tolls part of proposal in Georgia

| Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Truckers and other drivers traveling around Atlanta could soon be subject to added fees.

Legislators in Cobb and Cherokee counties have expressed support for a private consortium’s proposal to build express toll lanes along Interstates 75 and 575 years before a similar state plan would do it.

The group of private contractors, dubbed Georgia Transportation Partners, wants to construct 26 miles of barrier-separated toll lanes that would accommodate cars and a new bus rapid transit system of train-like express buses.

The state Transportation Department also plans to build high-occupancy vehicle lanes, or HOV lanes, and launch bus rapid transit along the same corridor, running along I-75 from I-285 in Atlanta north to Hickory Grove Road, and up I-575 to Sixes Road in Cherokee County. But that project is not scheduled to begin until 2009. The consortium believes they could finish it by 2011, shaving seven years off the completion time.

The group’s proposal includes an option to add a separate set of mandatory toll lanes for large trucks, The Associated Press reported.

Under a 2-year-old law, companies can propose building roads outside the traditional low-bid regulations for certain badly needed projects. The same law is being used in a proposal to convert 39 miles of Georgia 316 to a tollway from Lawrenceville to Athens.

The contractors propose using state and federal money. But the bulk of funds would come from revenue bonds that would be repaid by the tolls.

For commuters who opt to use the limited-access lanes, tolls could range from 10 cents per mile off-peak to 40 cents per mile during peak travel periods. A truck toll amount was not disclosed.

“I want traffic solutions and if private industry can do it faster, we ought to consider it,” said state Senator-elect John Wiles, R-Kennesaw.

Cutting yeas off the project could be worth the projected tolls costs, said state Rep. Calvin Hill, R-Canton.

“I know only what I’ve seen in the newspaper, but being able to get it years in advance makes a huge difference,” Hill said.

According to The AP, the for-profit consortium, including Bechtel Infrastructure and Georgia-based contractors Gilbert Southern and C.W. Matthews Contracting, declined to say how many express toll lanes they intend to build, citing competitive concerns. Toll traffic from I-75 would merge back into regular traffic lanes or HOV lanes on I-75 south of I-285, and on I-285.

Georgia law allows the plan to remain secret until the state Transportation Board and House and Senate Transportation committees agree to a deal, which could take months.