House committee kills provision that would have allowed Georgia to collect highway tolls forever

Senate Bill 183 would have allowed the state to collect highway tolls even after road projects are paid off. JOHN SPINK/AJC

A House of Representatives committee Thursday stripped a bill of a provision that would allow the state to collect tolls after a highway project is paid off.

Senate Bill 183 would have granted the State road and Tollway Authority the power to collect tolls on road projects in perpetuity, rather than letting the tolls expire once road construction project is paid for. But the House Transportation Committee stripped that provision from the bill, which also includes provisions making it easier to create public-private partnerships for transportation projects.

The change in the bill does not alter Georgia’s long-term strategy for using tolls to manage traffic congestion on the state’s busy highways,

In metro Atlanta, the state is building a system of tolled express lanes. As traffic on those lanes gets heavier, the toll gets higher. The idea is to discourage enough people from using the lanes to keep traffic in them moving at least 45 mph.

In metro Atlanta, SRTA already uses that strategy on express lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett County and I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties. Similar lanes are planned for I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, along the north end of the Perimeter and on Ga. 400.

SRTA Executive Director Chris Tomlinson has said the toll provision in SB 183 was simply an acknowledgement of “the strategy that the whole world knows we’re already doing.”

But at a previous committee meeting, some lawmakers and members of the public expressed concern about the prospect of unending tolls.

SRTA spokesman Matt Markham said the change to the bill “does not undermine the current or long-term strategy for tolling.”

Markham said the purpose of language was to “update the code to make it more clearly match what the state’s goals are with using pricing (tolls) to manage congestion and provide reliable trips.”

He said SRTA already has the authority to do that under current law.

“However, our statute still says that tolls have to expire after a specified period of time, which is easy to define if you are using tolls to pay off debt but not if you are using them to manage congestion,” Markham said.

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