New metro Atlanta I-75 toll lanes open Saturday

Metro Atlanta will employ another weapon in its long-running fight against traffic congestion when 30 miles of new toll lanes open Saturday on I-75.

The Northwest Corridor Express Lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties will allow motorists to bypass traffic on one of the region’s busiest highways – if they’re willing to pay up at least 10 cents a mile. For the first 14 days after opening, the lanes will be free to motorists with Peach Pass accounts.

The $834 million project is part of a 120-mile network of toll lanes that will crisscross metro Atlanta in coming years. The state already operates toll lanes on I-75 south of Atlanta and on I-85 northeast of the city.

Later this year, it will open an extension of the I-85 lanes. Eventually, transportation officials say, there will be similar lanes up Ga. 400 and along the top half of the Perimeter.

Gov. Nathan Deal announced the new I-75 lanes will open to southbound traffic mid-morning Saturday. Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale said they’ll provide immediate relief on a stretch of highway traveled by more than 300,000 vehicles a day.

“You’re going to see an option that gives congestion relief to people who have watched this project grow over the last four years,” Dale said. “Now the day is here.”

Just a few weeks ago the opening date was uncertain. A wall collapsed along the lanes near Windy Hill Road in June. An investigation determined that design and construction problems likely led to the collapse, which prompted repairs to 14 walls along the corridor.

Dale said the work is done and inspectors have determined the walls to be safe. The delay caused by the work was minimal – the lanes will still open before the end of summer, as expected. The cost of the extra work was covered by the contractor.

Like the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes in Clayton and Henry counties, the new lanes will be reversible, carrying traffic into Atlanta in the morning and out of town in the afternoon. They will close for a while each midday to allow operators to reverse traffic.

The toll will depend on the length of the trip and the volume of traffic. As congestion gets worst, the price rises. Under a new policy set by the State Road and Tollway Authority, the minimum toll is 10 cents a mile for most of the day (there’s a flat 50-cent charge for a trip of any lengthy from midnight to about 5 a.m., when traffic is lightest).

There is no maximum toll. But SRTA officials don’t expect Northwest Corridor tolls to cost much initially because the lanes are new and likely will be lightly used at first.

To use the lanes, a motorist must have a Peach Pass – even for the first two weeks, when no toll will be charged.

“You’re going to have 14 days without tolls to learn the system, to see how it works,” Dale said. “We want to give people the option, without a toll, to try these lanes.”

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