Who pays (and who doesn’t) on I-75, I-85 toll lanes?

On the new I-75 South Metro Express Lanes, everyone pays a toll except mass transit and emergency vehicles. JOHN SPINK/AJC

On the new I-75 South Metro Express Lanes, everyone pays a toll except mass transit and emergency vehicles. JOHN SPINK/AJC

The new I-75 South Metro Express Lanes are the latest phase in the state’s plan to create a network of express lanes on metro Atlanta highways.

Eventually, the system of toll lanes will include parts of I-85, I-75, I-285 and Ga. 400. The idea is to help solve Atlanta’s horrible traffic by promising commuters they can travel at least 45 mph on express lanes, if they’re willing to pay.

But there’s a difference among the lanes: who pays and who doesn’t.

On the South Metro Express Lanes everyone pays a toll, except mass transit and emergency vehicles. That’s also the model envisioned for most of the other express lanes.

But the existing I-85 express lanes in Gwinnett County are different in several respects. Vehicles with three or more people ride the lanes for free. So can alternative-fuel vehicles and motorcycles.

The reason? Those used to be high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

When the state converted them to toll lanes in 2011, state officials decided to keep some of the same rules that previously applied, according to Chris Tomlinson, executive director of the State Road and Tollway Authority. One change: The HOV lanes used to be for vehicles with two or more people; the minimum number was raised to three when they were converted to toll lanes.

For consistency, those same rules will apply to the extension of the I-85 express lanes that’s now under construction.

So why not apply those rules to the other express lanes? Because they’re brand new lanes, instead of converted lanes, Tomlinson said. They will expand capacity on the affected highways, and the thinking is that most everyone who uses them should help pay for their use and maintenance, Tomlinson said.

A reminder, though: Everyone who uses any of the express lanes – free or not – must have a Peach Pass.

You can learn more about the South Metro Express Lanes here.

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