'Flex lane' study OK'd by Georgia Senate committee

| Friday, March 04, 2005

A Georgia Senate panel has advanced a bill to add “flex auto lanes” to congested highways in the state.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted on Feb. 24 to pass the bill to the full Senate for consideration. The bill – HB273 – had already passed the House.

Sponsored by Rep. John Lunsford, the measure would encourage – but not require – the Georgia Department of Transportation to let commuters use emergency lanes and paved shoulders during time periods.

The flex 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,” 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.”

Lunsford said the lanes would be used only in areas where there are open strips for cars to go in emergencies.

The bill prohibits GDOT from turning all emergency lanes in the state into flex lanes.

“What we are asking DOT to do is find a perfect match and just take a look and see if these lanes would work,” Lunsford said.

Georgia would need federal permission to implement the pilot 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 than widening the highways.

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.