Trying to fix traffic congestion in metro Atlanta, a state
House panel passed a bill to let commuters use emergency lanes and paved
shoulders. But the state’s transportation head says the plan probably isn’t
feasible or safe.
The House Transportation Committee voted Feb. 14 to forward
the bill – HB273 – to the full House for further debate.
The measure would encourage – but not require – the Georgia
Department of Transportation to make it happen.
The so-called “flex auto lanes” would be used only in
certain hours, such as morning and evening rush hours, and never for more than
eight hours a day.
“We feel that Georgians – predominately in the metro areas –
need some relief from the congestion,” Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, told The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Is it a permanent fix? The answer is: No.
But we feel it is a pretty good temporary fix.”
Georgia would need federal permission to implement the
program on interstates and major highways that were built with federal funds.
Such programs already are in effect in Connecticut,
Washington state and Virginia.
Lunsford and Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, a bill
co-sponsor, conceded there have been no feasibility or safety studies done in
Georgia but argued that using emergency lanes and shoulders, where possible, is
a quicker, cheaper way to untangle traffic then widening the highways.
DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl initially dismissed the
flex lanes as unsafe and too costly. He told the newspaper he has reservations
that extend to air quality issues and the durability of such lanes. He said
using emergency lanes for traffic would make clearing accidents more difficult
and would leave stranded vehicles without a safe place to go.
Mike Kenn, president of Georgians for Better Transportation,
said his group believes the idea has merit.
“I don’t think it’s something you want to discount out of
hand,” Kenn said. “It’s obviously been applied in some other states with some
The bill would also allow solo drivers to use high occupancy
vehicle lanes, or HOV lanes, on the weekends. Lunsford said the lanes should be
open to all drivers when there isn’t much traffic.