Out of Control Policy Blog

Southern-Fried Toll Roads

USA Today's Larry Copeland writes today on the growing phenomenon of toll roads in the South, which are increasingly taking the form of high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes—and even networks of HOT lanes, as in Atlanta's case:

Toll roads — or at least plans for them — are becoming as common in Dixie as pecan pie, pickups and porch swings.

Georgia is planning an extensive network of HOT lanes on expressways in metropolitan Atlanta, including Interstates 85, 75, 575, 285 and 20. The only one that's "a certainty" is a 14-mile stretch of I-85, says Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman David Spears. That project, which will convert an existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane in each direction to a HOT lane with variable tolls, is expected to be operational in 2011 at a cost of about $147 million. Plans call for additional HOT lanes on 15 miles of I-75, 11 miles of I-575, 9.5 miles of I-285 and 6 miles of I-20.

Alabama is planning its first state toll road, a $710 million project that will add four toll lanes on a 16-mile stretch of U.S. 280 in Birmingham. The highway, designed to carry 50,000 vehicles daily, serves 97,000, and that number is expected to rise to 140,000 in the next decade, says Tony Hill of the Alabama Department of Transportation. "This is the best option we've been able to come up with … to relieve congestion along that stretch of 280."

Mississippi is planning a toll road linking downtown Jackson with Jackson-Evers International Airport and the eastern suburbs. Progress on the 12-mile project — the state's first toll road — has been temporarily delayed by the recession.

South Carolina is studying adding toll or HOV lanes to some of its interstates.

North Carolina's first modern toll road, the Triangle Expressway, is an 18.8-mile system now under construction in Wake and Durham counties around Raleigh-Durham. The $1 billion project, portions of which open for traffic in 2011, will collect tolls electronically.

Tennessee recently authorized limited tolling. No existing roads can be tolled, which would prevent the state from converting toll-free lanes reserved for high-occupancy vehicles into HOT lanes.

I'd also add in Texas, where you have three toll road concessions underway in the SH-130 segments 5 & 6 project (Austin to Seguin), North Tarrant Express (Metroplex), and I-635 managed lanes (Metroplex) projects, in which the private sector is bringing roughly $6 billion of the total $7 billion in needed financing to the table to deliver some needed capacity expansions and service improvements.

And let's not forget Virginia either, which has the I-495 Beltway HOT lanes and Midtown Tunnel projects currently either underway or in procurement.

Reason Foundation published the first policy studies on high-occupancy toll lanes in the U.S. and has researched them for over a decade since—these materials and more are available in our transportation research archive. Also, see our 2007 FAQ on HOT lanes for an overview of this topic, and our 2006 study on reducing congestion in Atlanta, which laid conceptual groundwork for the HOT network plans advancing in Georgia today.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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