How long does it take for you to get home from work? If your answer is, “It depends,” then you are like most commuters in metro Atlanta. We determine the length, in miles, of our daily commutes by choosing where we live. But the length, in time, is too often out of our control because of other commuters, wrecks, stalls and other variables.
Time is a precious and non-renewable resource, and none of us wants to waste it by sitting in traffic. Georgia’s transportation agencies are working together to provide an option to car and transit commuters that will get them out of congestion consistently and reliably: a priced-managed lane.
A priced-managed lane allows for “active management,” using the concept of supply and demand to keep traffic flowing. The I-85 express lanes in Gwinnett County illustrate the concept very well. When first opened, the tolls were too high, and very few vehicles used the lanes. After reducing the price, the lanes provided — and continue to provide — a more reliable option for transit riders at no additional cost and for drivers willing to pay the toll.
Moving forward, managed lanes will be about having new transportation options that are built and managed to be reliable permanently, as they should be. Unlike building another general-purpose lane, these managed lanes will not be choked with the same congestion as the other lanes within a brief time. Projects to add new priced-managed lanes in metro Atlanta in the next few years are being developed in Clayton, Henry, Gwinnett, Cobb and Cherokee counties.
Using pricing, reliability can be put back into your commute. It’s not about making money, it’s about moving people. Specifically, it’s about moving as many vehicles as possible while still maintaining a speed that provides the reliability we crave. If the I-85 project holds true on other corridors, some people will use the priced lanes every day, but most people won’t. Most will use them when they really need to get someplace — a meeting, a ball game or a child at day care. The users of the lane determine the price; we are there to make sure the speed holds up.
What would you do with an extra 27 hours? Georgia’s first newly constructed priced-managed lanes on I-75 in Henry and Clayton counties are projected to give a daily commuter more than a day back each year – without paying a toll. With thousands of vehicles using the toll lanes, that’s thousands less in the existing lanes. And toll lane users will save even more time, but only when they decide their time is worth the cost.
Priced-managed lanes put the power of choice back in the hands of commuters, a choice they simply do not have now.
Toby Carr is director of planning of the Georgia Department of Transportation.