Out with the old toll, in with the new toll

| 6/24/2011

More than 20 years ago, Georgia leaders promised that tolls would come off the GA 400 in Atlanta once the roadway was paid off. Well, the roadway is paid off, but drivers will still pay a toll there for at least another 10 years. So what happened?

It’s an age-old trick.

Last year, with the end of tolls approaching, officials with the State Road & Tollway Authority launched a campaign saying they didn’t have enough money to make future improvements to the roadway. If only they could collect tolls for another decade, they could complete a laundry list of capital improvements.

That campaign led to then Gov. Sonny Perdue performing a little sleight of hand. Perdue stood on a soapbox and declared that the toll would come off as promised and that the government had fulfilled its commitment to the taxpayers. But then, just as quickly, the governor declared that a “new toll” would begin almost immediately, and last 10 years. It would not be the same toll, it would be new, he said.

The big switcheroo is happening this week. The “old toll” technically ends at 8 p.m., Friday, June 24, and highway users will get a solitary toll-free week of reprieve before the “new toll” begins.

Highway users including truckers demand that tolls be taken off once a roadway is paid for. It’s something governments promise for many projects but can rarely deliver, it seems.

There’s more to the Georgia story, and again it’s something that sticks in the craw of highway users.

Prior to Perdue’s term, former Gov. Roy Barnes signed a law to OK the diversion of some GA 400 revenue to other projects. Upon taking office, Perdue was presented with legislation aimed at ending the diversion, but he stamped a veto on it.

Georgia’s current governor, Nathan Deal, who took the reins in January, campaigned on a promise that if elected, he would “swing the sledgehammer” and put an end to the GA 400 toll before the end of his first year in office.

A spokeswoman for the governor had not returned a comment as of this posting.