State looking at HOT lane changes; drivers fight back

by: Lori Geary Updated:

ATLANTA,None - Just five days after state officials flipped the switch on new toll lanes they are already looking at several options in response to a flood of complaints and rush hour commutes through DeKalb and Gwinnett counties that appeared to be worse.

Gov. Nathan Deal told Channel 2’s Lori Geary that the state is monitoring the commute on Interstate 85 very closely.

"Well, I think we have to take a very close look and see if the outline that has been put in place is actually working," Deal said on Wednesday afternoon.

“I understand they've already determined the need for more entrance and exit slots. Certainly, I would hope they address that very quickly," Deal told Geary.

Drivers who used to use the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes before the tolls took affect are asking for a rule change  that would lowering the requirement for a free ride in the new toll lanes from three to two people.

"Georgians are upset. They don't want this. They feel like they haven’t been heard," Victor Ramikissoon told Channel 2’s Kerry Kavanaugh.

Ramikissoon created a new Facebook page for I-85 commuters to voice their opposition to the High Occupancy Toll lanes and the Georgia Peach Pass. He and his girlfriend commute daily together from Snellville to northwest Atlanta. They used to enjoy the benefits of an HOV lane, but under the new rules they must pay to use the carpool lane.

"Everyone is putting their story on there," Ramikissoon said. The Facebook page had more than 450 followers on Wednesday evening.

"I don't preach many causes, but this one affects me directly," Ramikissoon told Kavanaugh.

Gina Evans, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority, had a solution for those commuters. “Just add another person to your car pool,” she told Geary.

Deal appeared to be a bit more flexible.

"I think we're going to be looking at everything. That may be one of those options as well, certainly, that would take away some of the criticism of folks who were able to ride in that lane without having to pay," Deal said. 

Deal was quick to point out the project was approved before he took office. Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the toll lane project in Nov. 2008. Deal also told Geary he’ll push to use toll money from HOT lanes to pay for road expansion, not converting existing lanes.

Deal said he will wait a month before evaluating the effectiveness of the HOT  lanes and plans for additional toll lanes.

"Price is one of those things that will also have to be looked at, as to whether or not that is a deterrent to achieve what was initially intended in terms of volume in that lane," Deal said.

State officials said any change to the lanes will also require approval from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"There's talk about a petition, legal action, what we can do. I know it's small but I want it to get large. I want people to be heard on this," Ramikissoon said.


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