Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Adding dedicated lanes for big rigs would be cost prohibitive.

Truck lanes might not be worth the cost


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Copyright 2008

Truck lane projects like those proposed on I-75 in Cobb County and the western wall of I-285 might not reduce traffic congestion enough to be worth building, according to a new study by the state Department of Transportation.

Adding lanes solely for big rigs would speed up regular traffic on adjacent interstate lanes by only about 10 miles per hour in the next three decades, the study found. Given that and the $13 billion price tag of a full truck-lane network, the study recommended the state not pursue truck-only lanes.

A 2005 study led by the State Road and Tollway Authority found that building truck-only lanes might significantly ease congestion on nearby regular lanes, including surface streets, but called its report a "limited" effort and recommended further study.

The earlier study set fire to the idea among Georgia transportation planners, who proposed a network of truck-only toll lanes.

Under a state law that allows private investment in public toll roads, companies have now spent millions of dollars developing truck lane proposals for I-75 and western I-285. The I-75 project, which includes HOV toll lanes on I-75 and I-575, is under a $38.5 million development contract.

It may be possible to build the projects without truck lanes. Representatives of private companies involved in those projects declined to comment or did not return calls.

DOT Commissioner Gena Abraham is re-evaluating the toll projects, she has said. If she sees need for change, she would make a recommendation to the DOT board.

While Abraham remains committed to private investment and tolls, when it comes to the specific projects, "right now everything still is on the table," said Ericka Davis, a spokeswoman for the DOT.

She said there could be no changes to the current roster of toll projects. Or, the projects could be modified.

"Or, we could determine by the facts and the data and studies that it's not feasible for the department or in the best interests of the state" to do the current list of projects, she said.

Another spokesman, David Spear, said the study "will be a significant component of her due diligence" as Abraham evaluates the program.

Other projects proposed include HOV toll lanes along Ga. 400 and an expansion of eastern I-20. They probably won't include truck lanes.

A joint study for the I-75/I-575 project found that if fully built with truck lanes it would cost $4 billion, and probably would not be affordable unless truckers on that interstate were banned from the regular lanes and forced to pay a toll. Trucking groups have threatened to sue if that happens.

Spear said the DOT study didn't evaluate mandatory toll lanes. "I suppose that's a caveat [to study results], but the staff's recommendation is not to pursue truck lanes, period," he said.

A number of board members seemed unsatisfied with the depth of the data, and they couldn't say where it would lead their decisions.

Spear said the SRTA study and the DOT study measured congestion relief differently, so it probably isn't possible to compare their results.

Board Chairman Mike Evans said the board needs more clarity on the study and on previous data that the new study seemed to refute. If the new numbers bear out, he said, it would be "a severe blow to the concept" of truck-only lanes from a fiscal standpoint, though the safety benefits still might hold. He said it is too early to say whether it would affect the projects already on the table.

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