By David Pendered
Georgia’s major initiative to ease traffic congestion along I-75/I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties is to open this weekend. The Northwest Corridor Express Lanes are slated to open mid-day Saturday, Gov. Nathan Deal announced Tuesday.
The project adds 29.7 miles of reversible express lanes to one of the region’s heavily traveled corridors.
This project wasn’t built solely to serve commuters who choose to reside a distance from work, or who were compelled for economic reasons to “drive until they qualified” for a mortgage, state transportation officials have said.
I-75 southbound is a truck route connecting the Midwest with Atlanta and destinations accessed by highways that meet in the region. Along I-75 in Cobb, traffic routinely grinds to a halt in the morning as trucks wait to merge onto I-285 southbound, from which they can continue south along I-75 or I-85. or merge to I-20 east or I-20 west. The northbound scenario is similar in the afternoon/evening rush hour. Commuters are stuck in between trucks.
The project will enable commuters, if they’re willing to pay a price, to avoid the congestion and trip-time uncertainty caused by the large volume of 18-wheel trucks traveling along I-75.
The express lanes also will serve, for free, public transit providers including Xpress, CobbLinc, the Cherokee Area Transportation System, and state-registered vanpools.
The express lanes are to be open in the southbound direction on Saturday and Sunday.
On Monday, the lanes are to be open to southbound travel during the morning commute. Monday afternoon, the lanes are to be reversed to transport vehicles headed north, Natalie Dale, spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, said Tuesday.
From this point forward, the reversible lanes will be open in the mornings to southbound traffic and in the afternoons/evenings to northbound traffic.
Trips will be free for the first 14 days. After the introductory period, drivers will need to have a Peach Pass to travel in the express lanes, Dale said.
Deal is slated to lead the ribbon cutting ceremony Sept. 12 at 10 a.m. The location is the Braves North Lot 29, near the SunTrust Stadium.
When Deal announced the project, in May 2012, he emphasized two points – the need to ease congestion in a major corridor, and the state’s desire to bring in private investors to help pay for the project. The original terms the governor announced include:
- $300 million for construction, funded by the motor fuel tax;
- $270 million in low-interest loan guarantee obtained through the federal government;
- $200 million from GDOT’s construction budget;
- The private partner was to be asked to provide from 10 percent to 20 percent of the project cost, to be repaid by the state.
In addition, according to the governor’s statement:
- “The state will retain absolute and total control of the lanes both during and after construction;
- “The state will alone determine tolling rate scenarios;
- “The state will alone determine how and when monies are to be repaid to private partner(s). “
The parameters of the project are along I-75 from the Cumberland Mall area, at I-75 and Akers Mill, to north of Kennesaw, at I-75 and Hickory Grove Road; and along I-575 from the I-75 interchange near Kennesaw to Sixes Road, south of Holly Springs.