Tollway authority disputes study of HOT lanes

by: Kerry Kavanaugh Updated:

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ATLANTA - A new study out about the Interstate 85 High Occupancy Toll lanes, or HOT lanes, suggests drivers are more likely to use the lanes, which stretch from I-285 to Old Peachtree Road, if they live in an affluent area.

But state officials argue the study is highly flawed.

The Southern Environmental Law Center conducted the study, analyzing the median income level of Peach Pass users by ZIP code.

It is their argument that these are publicly funded roads and should be equally used by all.

The SELC said its study of Peach Pass transactions by ZIP code shows a relationship between income and HOT lane usage.

According to its data, people who live in the highest-income ZIP code, earning an average of $102,000 a year, were five times more likely to use the lanes than people living in the ZIP code where the average income was the lowest, at $43,770.

SELC researchers told Channel 2 Action News they realize the data is limited but it was all they could obtain via open-records requests.

The State Road and Tollway Authority said two of their own studies are already underway.

"With respect to the top ZIP codes, the report shows that the people most likely to use the lanes are those who live near the top end of the corridor," said SRTA spokesperson Bret Brantley. "When you compare the top five median income ZIP codes map to the top five highest-use ZIP codes map, only two of the ZIP codes overlap."

That's according to the state's own calculations. The state also argues the SELC study doesn't take into account Peach Pass riders who are in carpools or ride public buses.

Georgia Tech is conducting one of the studies for the state; it is due out later this year.

SRTA said it also disputes the nickname "Lexus Lanes."

They claim the Georgia Tech study shows the most frequent vehicles in the HOT lanes are the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Ford F-150 and Nissan Altima.