'Flex lane' effort sent to Georgia governor

| 4/13/2005

The Georgia Senate has approved a measure that calls for a study to determine whether to let commuters use emergency lanes and paved shoulders during certain time periods.

The bill, which previously passed the House, now moves to Gov. Sonny Perdue for approval.

Sponsored by Rep. John Lunsford, R-McDonough, HB273 would encourage – but not require – the Georgia Department of Transportation to study the use and implementation of so-called “flex auto lanes” for congested highways in the state.

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 recently 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 are already in effect in Connecticut, Washington state and Virginia.

Lunsford and Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Dallas, 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 effort ran into some initial skepticism from state transportation officials.

DOT Commissioner Harold Linnenkohl told the newspaper when the bill was introduced that he had reservations that extend to air quality issues and the cost of reconstructing emergency lanes to handle more traffic, estimated at $1.8 billion per mile. He said using the 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 thinks 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.