Is it fair to call the HOT Lanes “Lexus Lanes”? Perhaps,
according to a recent study by the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC).
The SELC conducted a study to see what, if any, correlation existed between toll lane usage and income. The results, not surprisingly, showed a positive link between the two, but also found other factors influenced usage.
In October 2011, the state’s first managed lane project opened in Gwinnett County on I-85. The lanes, which had previously been designated as High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, were converted to High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. The rates for using the lanes have varied from a few cents to $8 for a one-way trip.
The SELC examined data from a four-month period in the fall of 2012. Non-toll and out-of-state lane usage were excluded and the remaining trips studied on a per capita basis. The highest median income zip code accounted for 2.01 HOT lane transactions per person while the lowest median income zip code had .38 transactions per person.
Dacula’s 30019 zip code was among the five zip codes with both the highest median income level and the highest per capita number of HOT lane transactions. However, the five zip codes with the highest HOT lane usage (30019, 30519, 30548, 30043 and 30024) are also at the far end of the existing HOT lanes and, as a result more drivers may be using the lanes more because of lengthier travel distances. Of those five zip codes, only two -- 30019 and 30024 -- were also among the five top median income zip codes covered by the study.
The SELC admits the study is “limited in scope” and calls for more detailed analysis comparing usage against income at the census tract or census block level, studying all available HOT transaction data and factoring in variables such as proximity to HOT lane entry points, likely destinations, availability of alternate routes and availability of transit service.
The group also encourages state and federal agencies to “pursue mitigation policies for the I-85 HOT lanes and future managed lane projects to better allocate the benefits of these projects across all income groups.”
The SELC maintains the variable-priced toll is a source of inequality and made four recommendations for existing and future managed toll projects:
- Maximize carpool access by allowing two-person carpools.
- Limit state funding so that drivers who cannot or choose not to pay the tolls are not paying for the projects.
- Use toll revenue to fund transit service to ensure sufficiency of transit in the managed lane corridor.
- Allow all registered users a credit or certain number of free trips per year.
“Given the substantial investment of public funds required to build them, the benefits of managed lanes projects must be available to Georgians of all income levels,” the report stated.
Why Mitigation Policies May Be Important for Dacula Residents
Planning is currently underway for a project to extend the managed toll lanes to the Hamilton Mill exit. As part of the project, an additional lane would be constructed to avoid losing capacity in the free lanes.
Public hearings on the project were held in March and more are planned in 2014. According to a Georgia Department of Transportation fact sheet, bid advertising for the project is expected to begin in fall of 2014. Construction should be underway in late 2015 with the new lanes open to traffic in 2017.
Once the lanes open, residents in the Dacula area will have the option to pay to travel from exit 120 to just south of I-285.
Would You Like to See Changes to the HOT Lane Policies?
Would you be more likely to use the lanes if two-person carpools were allowed? Would a Peach Pass credit or a number of free trips convince you to register for a pass and use the lanes? Does high trip cost deter you from using the lanes or do you simply choose not to pay to travel on a taxpayer-funded road? Let us know in the comments.