Toll lanes: $13.95 to drive 16 miles at peak times in northeast Atlanta metro area

Traffic heads north on I-77 as construction continued at exit 23 in Huntersville on the toll lanes project in May.
Traffic heads north on I-77 as construction continued at exit 23 in Huntersville on the toll lanes project in May. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

Toll lanes in the northeast Atlanta metropolitan area are costing drivers up to $13.95 a trip, Observer news partner WBTV reported this week.

The lanes opened five years ago along 16 miles of Interstates 85/75. The lanes are being used more than ever, but with more drivers comes a higher price, the station reported.

“As the popularity of the lanes has increased, in order to try and keep the traffic flowing, we have seen a toll increase recently,” Matt Markham of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority told WBTV.

By law, drivers pay no more than $13.95 to drive the length of the lanes. It often costs less, depending on the amount of traffic.

For the Atlanta lanes, the goal is to keep cars moving at a minimum 45 mph. Toll lanes under construction on I-77 from Charlotte to Mooresville aim to maintain a minimum speed of 55 mph.

The state of Georgia built the Atlanta toll lanes, which are managed by a state agency.

I-77 Mobility Partners, formed by Spain-based contractor Cintra, is financing, designing and building the 26-mile I-77 toll lanes project from Brookshire Freeway to Exit 36 (N.C. 150) in Mooresville. I-77 Mobility Partners also will operate and maintain the lanes.

Unlike the Atlanta express lanes, however, I-77 Mobility Partners is not limited on what it can charge drivers to use the I-77 express lanes, WBTV reported.

Cintra, whose U.S. headquarters are in Austin, Texas, addresses the question of what would keep the company from setting prohibitively high rates for drivers on its website, WBTV reported.

“There is no incentive for the private operator to set rates at prohibitively high levels because that would deter drivers from using the lanes,” the company says. “Toll rates will be determined by demand in order to maintain reliable travel.”

The project has drawn intense criticism particularly in the Lake Norman area, especially because the 50-year contract bars new general purpose lanes without a stiff financial penalty. Last November, voters in Huntersville booted the mayor and council members who either backed the lanes or didn’t openly oppose them. Gov. Pat McCrory lost solidly Republican Lake Norman precincts to former State Rep. Robert Brawley in the GOP primary for governor.

The Charlotte City Council, however, voted 7-4 in January to support the lanes.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak