Congestion pricing coming to Atlanta

| 12/3/2008

By 2011, highway users in the Atlanta region will have a choice to pay a toll to drive in lanes being designed to reduce congestion.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded a $110 million grant to implement congestion pricing on 49 miles of Interstate 85, Interstate 75 and Interstate 20.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Nov. 25 that the grant will pay for the conversion of high-occupancy vehicle lanes to high-occupancy toll lanes, known as HOT lanes, on the 49-mile route.

Truckers say the grant is further proof that the current administration will not give up in its plan to toll and privatize existing lane miles around the country.

“They’re finding a way to use it to press their agenda forward in the waning weeks of this administration,” said Mike Joyce, director of legislative affairs for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

“It begs the question, why are we using current resources to convert an existing facility to a toll facility?”

Congestion pricing gives users a choice to drive in toll-free lanes or pay a premium to use the HOT lanes. It is meant to save time. Toll rates in the HOT lanes will vary depending on the time of day and how congested the roadway is.

Joyce said truckers will not see much benefit despite the optimism of the U.S. DOT in reducing congestion.

“I don’t see an advantage for trucking companies at all in this scenario,” Joyce said. “Even if truckers use the lanes, they will pay a premium for that privilege. The ability of a trucker to pass along the cost of tolls in these times is difficult at best.”

The HOT-lane conversion is scheduled to be completed in 2011.

Peters announced that similar HOT-lane projects in Minneapolis and in Southern California have reduced congestion during peak hours.

Peters said the Atlanta grant includes $30 million in federal transit funds for the purchase of 36 new buses and to expand park-and-ride facilities to encourage transit use.

– By David Tanner, staff writer