GA/I-85 toll express lanes doing better, but tolls low

November 23, 2011
By Peter Samuel

The Georgia I-85 toll express lanes (GA85XL) now in their eighth week of operation continue to attract more patronage, but tolls while growing, are still low per mile.  We've worked on seven full weeks of data. Average weekday traffic in the variably priced lanes is now 11,210 vs 4,170 in the first week.

In the first several days of the GA85XLs there were loud complaints that congestion was worsened in the general purpose (GP) lanes, Morning peak hour speeds in the GP lanes have remained in the average weekly range 35mph to 40mph, but the major problem appears from speed data to have been in the afternoon peak. In the first week of the XLs average speeds in the free lanes were 29mph.

They have increased steadily to 40mph in Week 7 (11-14 to 11-18).

Express lane speeds are not quite free flow, perhaps because they are a single lane each direction with no passing. Average speeds in the XLs are just over 50mph in the afternoon peaks and just under 50mph in the morning peaks.

10mph speed advantage now vs 20mph in first weeks

In the first couple of weeks the average speed differential between the toll lanes and the general purpose lanes was about 20mph. That has declined to about 10mph now.

Toll rates started off averaging $2.02 for the 15 miles or 13.4c/mile in the first week with the highest tolls being $5.45, 36c/mile for the first three days. For Week 1 as a whole the average high toll was $4.47, 30c/mile.

But this produced the 'empty lane syndrome' in the express lanes. By Week 2 the pricing algorithm was adjusted, toll rates averaged just 88c, 6c/mile with highs averaging $1.73, 11.5c/mile. Traffic rose from an average 4,170/day to 5,736, a 37% increase.

(All data we're using is weekday data. We've ignored weekend XL use which is about a fifth of weekday usage.)

Week 3 saw the low toll rates continued at about the same levels as Week 2 but traffic soared 51% on Week 2 levels to an average weekdaily 8690, or more than double the Week 1 traffic.

Every week since then has seen moderate growth in XL traffic to 11,210 last week, Week 7.

From Week 4 on there has also been a steady if modest increase in toll rates.

The average toll in Week 7 was $1.11, 7.4c/mile and the high tolls have gone to an average of $2.63, 17.5c/mile.

By the standards of most toll lanes and many tollroads these are quite low per mile tolls - and by our calculation they are only generating toll revenue at an annual rate of about $3.5m based on about $12,500 tolls/weekday in Week 7.

Good news

The good news is in the trend. For four weeks now the average tolls have crept up week by week (from 89c to $1.11). That's a 25% increase and it has accompanied a 29% increase in traffic from an average weekdaily 8690 to 11210.

Toll revenues have risen by our calculations from a tiny $7720/day or $2.1m/yr in Week 3 by 61% by Week 7.

Around three-quarters of the traffic in the GA85XLs are tollpayers, the other quarter being either registered carpools (3 or more occupants in the vehicle) or transit vehicles, or else they are violators

The project is principally aimed at managing traffic better and providing choices of buying a faster ride on those occasions it is important enough to be worth the toll. It isn't primarily about raising revenue, although normally projects of this kind raise more than enough to cover operating costs.

Design limitations

As presently configured GA85XL has serious design limitations:

- just a single lane each direction not allowing passing while most successful lanes projects are 2 lanes each direction

- no direct connector ramps so every entry and exit involves weaving across traffic general purpose lanes and these are mostly five and in some places six per direction, a long weave

- GA85XL starts 13 miles, 20km out from downtown Atlanta at the Perimeter I-285 belt route and goes another 15 miles, 24km

CONCLUSION: The project is steadily doing better each week, but from a low base.


- users must have a registered Peach Pass transponder before entering the lane.

- registered vehicles can use the lane for free include carpools with three or more occupants; transit vehicles (e.g. GRTA Xpress coaches, MARTA buses, van pools); motorcycles; on-call emergency vehicles; and alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) with the proper AFV license plate (does not include hybrid vehicles)

 - other registered vehicles can use the express lane by paying a variable toll using a transponder

Peach Pass brand transponders are ISO 16000 6C sticker tags. They are replacing the ISO 16000 6B tags branded CRUISE CARD issued for the GA400 tollroad closer in to Atlanta.

ETCC is providing the toll system. (CORRECTION)

Bob Poole on Atlanta:

earlier reports:

idiot editorial Washington Times:

3rd week:

2nd week:

wild start:

TOLLROADSnews 2011-11-22

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