Express lanes reach $4.00 in the afternoons

Many residents have commented on social media or messaged the page asking about higher-than-normal pricing this month on the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes. Toll prices in the afternoon have climbed as high as $4.00 to travel the entire twelve mile corridor from I-675 to state route 155 on I-75 South.

The toll lanes use dynamic pricing to ensure free-flowing traffic for those who opt to use them. The project first opened to traffic in January 2017.

Photo of I-75 South Metro Express Lanes toll prices in October 2020 (SRTA photo)
(SRTA photo)

Moving Henry Forward reached out to the State Road & Tollway Authority (SRTA) — the state agency in charge of tolling operations — for any insights they could provide. Here’s what I received:

The Georgia Express Lanes are dynamically priced, meaning as demand for use of the lanes increases, the toll amount rises to ensure that you experience more reliable trip times. In 2018, the SRTA Board approved that the minimum toll rate will be $0.10 per mile for all express lanes. Customers can also expect toll rates above the $0.10 per mile minimum to vary based on travel conditions at each express lane facility rather than a predetermined max rate. During periods of very low demand, per mile toll rates on an express lane facility may be replaced with a fixed toll of $0.50 per trip, regardless of the length of the trip. Previously, the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes and the I-85 Express Lanes each had differing toll rate pricing structures, increasing the likelihood of confusion among users. The 2018 policy provides SRTA with more flexibility in managing congestion on the lanes.  The per mile rate will increase and decrease dynamically based on traffic conditions, including the level of congestion in the lanes and the surrounding corridor, performance management targets for the lane and any debt service needs of the facility.

Now as traffic congestion returns, the Express Lanes in the I-75 South corridor in Clayton and Henry Counties are seeing 75% of the traffic volume with the percentage of truck traffic slightly above normal (pre-COVID) and increased periods of stop and go traffic in the general purpose lanes. Pricing on the I-75 South Metro Lanes is reflecting the congestion across all lanes in the I-75 corridor. While rush hour congestion periods are not as long as they were pre-COVID, with rush hour starting later and ending earlier, intense periods of congestion are occurring that previously had not been seen since before the pandemic.

The State Road and Tollway Authority understands that these are challenging times for many of our customers and while we have always offered payment plans, during the pandemic we have extended the deadlines for payments due for those individuals requesting extensions or advising that they were having a hard time making payments. We also temporarily suspended filing claims at the Office of State Administrative Hearings but have since started filing claims. As a reminder to our customers, public transit providers that operate in the 75 South metro corridor, including Xpress and state-registered vanpools will be able to use I-75 South Metro Express Lanes free of charge. To access Xpress, transit riders can choose one of several Park and Ride lots located along the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes in both Clayton and Henry counties.

The above response was provided courtesy of SRTA

Using traffic counts publicly available from Georgia DOT, average workday traffic volumes on I-75 South between Tuesday, October 13, and Friday, October 23, peaked in the 5:00 pm hour with 6,592 vehicles. The traffic counter is located on I-75 south of I-675 near the Walt Stephens Road overpass. One month earlier, between Tuesday, September 8, and Friday, September 18, volumes in the same hour averaged 6,575 vehicles. Date ranges were selected to omit holidays, including Labor Day and Columbus Day, and the week of Henry County Schools fall break. No major differences were observed when comparing traffic volumes during the two date ranges in five, ten and fifteen-minute intervals.

The express lanes usage has steadily been increasing since its COVID-19 low in April. In September 2020, average weekday usage was greater than 8,400 vehicles per day. During the first week of October — the most recent weekly data available, the number of weekday users averaged more than 9,200 vehicles.

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Addressing Common Statements about the Express Lanes

The mentioning of the express lanes will inevitably draw a mixed response, so I wanted to take this opportunity to address a few of the most common statements I see about the project.

Statement: Georgia used tax dollars to build the project but now charges for its use.

Answer: Tax dollars were used for a portion of the project’s construction cost; however, the toll revenues do not pay back the portion of the project funded through tax dollars.

The project’s construction was funded through a combination of federal, state and private dollars. No local funding was used for the project. The toll revenues collected go to pay back the revenue bonds that were financed for the project, after deducting the cost for toll operations and maintenance expenses.

Construction of the $226 million dollar project included $26,070,240 in revenue bonds issued by the State Road and Tollway Authority (SRTA). The revenue bonds are financed through the year 2049 with total payments due equaling $99,558,911.1

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Statement: the state should have widened the interstate to four lanes instead.

Answer: Widening the interstate for additional “free lanes,” known as general purpose lanes, causes what’s referred to as induced demand. Induced demand leads to often-longer trip times as motorists opt to travel on the newly widened roadway that previously used an alternate route or alternate mode of transportation. In one example, travel times increased as much as 55% on the Katy Freeway in Houston over a three-year period after it was widened from eight to twenty-three lanes in some sections — the widest freeway in the world. Congestion on I-25 in Denver reached pre-construction levels two years after being widened and continued to worsen.

Statement: express lanes should have been built on both sides of the interstate, instead of the reversible set-up we have now.

Answer: Georgia DOT considered constructing one express lane in each direction during project concept development, but eliminated the alternative citing “the reduced operation of the system, higher enforcement requirements and [operations & maintenance] cost.2

1. State Road and Tollway Authority Financial Report for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2019 (link)

2. Georgia DOT Concept Report for I-75 from south of SR 155 to Eagles Landing Parkway – Managed Lanes (link)