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I-85 HOT lane changes include a new low rate: penny a mile | News

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I-85 HOT lane changes include a new low rate: penny a mile

ATLANTA (WXIA) -- There are some new changes in store for those controversial HOT express toll lanes along I-85 in Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties.

First, the State Road & Tollway Authority voted Thursday to lower the minimum toll rate from 10 cents a mile to only a penny a mile, but only during non-peak periods.

Those times are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. and between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, and for most of the weekend.

Gov. Nathan Deal, who chairs the tollway authority, said it should persuade more drivers to use the HOT lanes around the clock.

"It will bring the usage in that road back up, hopefully, to comparable levels of use when it was simply a HOT lane," Deal said.

But some drivers ask, why even pay a penny a mile to use a HOT lane when the other lanes may not be overcrowded?

"I wouldn't use it," driver Kevin Bates told 11Alive News.

"I would probably travel in another lane," said driver Careyann Taylor.

"That's their choice; isn't it nice to have choices?" Gov. Deal responded to the same question.

Other HOT lane changes made by SRTA on Thursday include:

1) A new "Peach Pass Go" mobile phone app that drivers can use to change the status of their toll account.

2) A live online view of the flexible toll rate which drivers can see before getting there.

3) A new southbound entry point near the Boggs Road overpass by the end of the month (with temporary signs at first).

4) New signs along GA 400 to let drivers know they can use either a Peach Pass or Cruise Card in the express lane by early February.

SRTA Executive Director Gena Evans told authority members 120,000 Peach Passes have been sold so far, which she said was more than expected at this point.

The eventual goal is 170,000.

She also said HOT lane usage has risen to as many as 2,000 cars an hour at times.

The highest toll for the 16-mile route, $4.10, came during morning rush hour earlier this week.

One thing Gov. Deal and SRTA made clear on Thursday is that, like them or not, HOT lanes are here to stay and we'll see more of them soon.

The I-75/I-575 HOT lanes that were put on hold last month are still alive. Gov. Deal thought the original arrangement, which will be redone, gave too much control to private companies.

Now the state will have to find another way to pay for the nearly $1 billion project, which the governor said will probably include borrowing money.

Also, a HOT lanes project for I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties, which may get underway in a year or so.

Those projects will have one major difference.

Those new HOT lanes will be newly built and will not replace existing HOV lanes like the I-85 original, which is what angered drivers the most.

Three months after the I-85 lanes opened, state officials now admit that design was a mistake.