Regional Issues series wraps up with Northwest Corridor updates

Daily commutes have been reduced by an hour since the opening of the Northwest Corridor toll lanes to Interstates 575 and 75, a state transportation official told local business leaders Friday.

Tim Matthews with the Georgia Department of Transportation spoke to local business leaders with the Cherokee County Chamber of Commerce Friday morning as the chamber wrapped up its 2019 Regional Issues series.

With the reversible express lane on Interstate 575 between Interstate 75 and Sixes Road having been open for a year, Matthews presented statistics on local benefits.

Matthews said rush hour traffic in the Northwest Corridor (including the express lanes on both I-75 and I-575) has been reduced by an average of approximately one hour, with travel speeds that are 20 percent faster and an average daily fare of $2.32. Not only has this helped motorists choosing to use the express lanes arrive at their destinations sooner, but the express lanes have helped travelers on the general purpose lanes, as the average speed on these lanes has increased by around 20 mph.

With the growth that Georgia has seen over the past several years, including the rapid growth of the metro Atlanta area, finding effective solutions in transportation has been vital, according to Matthews.

“It’s good to see growth, but growth presents problems to be solved,” he said.

Matthews said a study regarding potential expansion of carpool lanes began in 2000, but found interest in carpooling was not high enough to warrant expansion of those lanes. After further consideration, GDOT and the Atlanta Regional Commission adopted express lanes as a strategy to combat congestion in 2007.

There are currently three express lane corridors in the metro Atlanta area, according to Matthews. These included the I-85 express lanes that opened in 2011 and were extended an additional 10 miles in 2018, the I-75 South Metro express lane near the I-75/I-675 interchange and the Northwest Corridor express lanes along Interstates 75 and 575.

“We are finding that express lanes are the right answer,” he said. “The system has been successful.”

Looking to the future, Matthews said the plan is to eventually have express lanes on the entire perimeter, with a current focus on the “top end” of I-285 between I-75 and I-85, as well as along the upper half of the perimeter between I-75 and I-20, and I-85 and I-20. Other express lane plans Matthews described are in the works at GDOT include along Georgia Highway 400 from I-285 to McFarland Parkway in Forsyth County, on I-75 south of the airport to connect with the South Metro express lane and on Interstate 20 at points both east and west of I-285.

Matthews fielded questions from the audience, including why the I-575 express lane is a single reversible lane and if there are any plans for an outer perimeter for the metro area. Matthews said when the I-575 express lane was being planned for, the numbers indicated that one reversible lane would be enough. Currently, Matthews said there are no plans to build an outer perimeter road.

After the meeting, Matthews said he speaking at such gatherings is a two-way street for giving and getting information.

“We engage in a lot of proactive outreach,” he said. “We want the public to understand what we’re doing, and we need the public’s comments and input.”

Donald Campbell
Cherokee Tribune