Toll revenue, money to fix highways in Georgia takes sharp dip because of COVID-19

Toll revenue, money to fix highways in Georgia takes sharp dip because of COVID-19

ATLANTA — If you’re one of the few drivers who’ve been out on metro Atlanta interstates in the past couple of months, you’ve seen light traffic and the absence of cars in Georgia’s express lanes.

Georgia’s toll revenue through the Peach Pass program is now down by an estimated $12.3 million, according to the head of the state’s road and tollway authority. That’s a 28% dip, with other states experiencing anywhere between 50% and 90% in toll traffic and revenue loss since March.

That money is used to fix and maintain highways, bridges and tunnels. The figures were discussed in a recent teleconference hosted by the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.

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“If this were any other year, we’d be talking about Memorial Day one of the busiest travel weekends of the year,” said Patrick Jones, IBTTA’s CEO. “Instead, we’re talking about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our nation’s economy, and our daily lives.”

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“We’re starting to see the return (of toll traffic),” said Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the Georgia Road and Tollway Authority. “The question for us is really one of how long the recovery will really span over.”

Tomlinson, who oversees several state transit agencies, also noted MARTA rail ridership down by 70%-74%, with bus ridership down by up to 50%. The agency has cut back on service and bus routes to manage budgets through the pandemic.

“While these numbers show record decline in ridership, it also shows that even in the midst of the worst pandemic in the century, a significant portion of the population still relies on the pub transit system for their essential trips to either work, health care, groceries and other travel-dependent activities,” Tomlinson said.

Tomlinson said the state can recover from short-term revenue loss by budgeting the reserves, potentially tapping into more federal relief and cutting back on certain road projects. He also noted a silver lining to decreased highway traffic.

“In the Atlanta market there is still a latent demand and the reality is we actually don’t need all the traffic to come back to experience congestion,” Tomlinson said.

With a future of telecommuting, and less traffic returning as the state moves to reopen, there’s indication that pandemic routines are playing a part in solving a pre-pandemic dilemma — major Metro Atlanta congestion.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the equivalent of mother nature cleaning out our congestion garage,” Tomlinson said.

State plans to send out thousands of more toll violation fines