Georgia House panel approves 'flex' lanes

| 2/16/2005

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 success.”

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.