The $8 sticker shock that greeted commuters driving the entire 16 miles of I-85’s high-occupancy toll lane this week surely had some drivers gnawing on their steering wheels. But don’t expect any changes to the optional tolls anytime soon.
Gov. Nathan Deal has doubled-down on the routes, and plans are in the works for 12 miles of such lanes along I-75. When pressed about the issue Tuesday, the governor said the price fluctuations were a sign the system was working.
“That lane has proven to be very successful,” Deal said. “And that’s what it was created for — to take as much pressure off the other lanes as possible.”
When the so-called HOT lanes first started in late 2011, public pushback over tolls that hit $5.50 for the 16-mile route prodded Deal to temporarily slash prices. Those days, though, are smoggy memories. The tally topped a previous high of $7 earlier this summer, and only a few months later it surpassed $8.
Still, Deal said only 10 percent of commuters pay the full amount of the toll and an additional 13 percent ride free in car pools. The average toll, he said, hovers around $1.50.
“The reality is we don’t have the finances at the state level and most people aren’t in the mood to see tax increases that would generate revenue to do that. Some would argue that the T-SPLOST would have been the way to do that,” he said, invoking the 1 percent transportation sales tax that failed in most parts of the state during an election last year.
The governor’s takeaway message: Commuters should get used to the tolls or settle for the more clogged, but free-to-use, lanes right next to them.
Said Deal, “Probably many of the improvements in the future, not only in our state but across the country, will be toll-based expansions.”