HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — It's never been tried on this large of a scale in the United States. The Georgia Department of Transportation wants to build highway lanes exclusively for heavy trucks along 40 miles of I-75. But the idea of separating trucks from passenger vehicles isn't popular with everyone.
The Georgia Department of Transportation wants to build the lanes northbound between Macon and McDonough.
It's one of the busiest stretches of highway in the state because a lot of trucks use it heading from the ports in Savannah up to metro Atlanta.
“I try to avoid Georgia,” trucker Dan Eynon told Channel 2 Action News. “But this trip, I couldn’t do that.”
We talked to drivers of big rigs and passenger cars at Love’s Truck stop off I-75, in the area where GDOT wants to spend $2 billion to build lanes just for heavy trucks.
“Anything can help. It can't get any worse than it is already,” said trucker Kevin Newton.
Alex Everly, who drives a passenger car, agrees.
“It’s something that I’ve often thought when I was driving on the interstates, like, ‘Man, I wish these trucks had their own lane,’” he said.
But a state audit this year criticized the big-budget plan, saying GDOT decided to build the lanes “without clear indication that the project is a justified investment."
The national Public Interest Research Group named the project one of the top boondoggles of 2017.
Matthew Casale of PIRG says the state should focus on moving freight out of the Savannah Port using rail, rather than building more roads.
“I think spending $2 billion on something that might not work for the purpose it's intended to work for just doesn't make any sense,” Casale said.
“I don't really care what that group has to say,” countered Jay Roberts, the planning director for GDOT. “I’m looking at the experts within the field.”
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One expert is transportation consultant Cambridge Systematics. It recently reported truck only lanes on I-75 would improve travel times an average of 8 percent.
Another calculation shows an even better result. In highway nerd-speak, it's called vehicle hours of delay. In other words, the difference between the posted speed limit, or when traffic is free flowing, and how fast traffic will really let us drive when the roads are packed.
“After looking at it they came back and they said this project will relieve congestion by 40 percent,” Moore told Channel 2.
That same consultant took a deeper dive into truck-only lanes in 2008. Back then, it did not make a recommendation on truck-only lanes in the area, but did say the investments on lanes specifically for big rigs on I-75 "appear to have preliminary merit.”
One reason: Safety.
“When you get surrounded by trucks it just kind of makes for some white-knuckle driving,” Nancy Kilcrease told Channel 2.
The 2008 study predicted a 30 percent decrease in deadly crashes in the area if the state builds new lanes just for big rigs.
As for the cost, truckers wouldn't have to pay a toll.
Critics call it that a huge giveaway to the trucking industry. Ed Crowell of the Georgia Motor Trucking Association says that’s not true.
“Trucks represent about 7 percent of vehicles on the road. We pay sometimes nearly 40 percent of all the taxes collected for the road. So the idea that this is being built somehow as a favor to the industry, not at all,” Crowell said.
Crowell ads that it is not about cars versus trucks. It’s about the economy.
“That free flow of freight brings all kinds of economic benefits to all sorts of other people, and not the least of which is everyone who’s already commuting on that road that won’t have to deal with trucks every day,” he said.
The American Transportation Research institute released a study this year that says the trucking industry faced 996 million hours of delay on the highway in 2015. The institute says that’s like having more than 350,000 truckers sit idle for an entire work year.
Cox Media Group