Traffic is never a good thing. Well, we know that already. After all, there are only so many innovative ideas that can help you survive long hours in peak hour traffic. But, personal discomfort isn’t the only reason why traffic counts as the biggest pain in the ass for city management.
A study conducted by Texas A&M in 2010 reveals that traffic snarls and congestion set U.S. back by $87 billion every year in wasted fuel and time. In addition, companies find it difficult to hire candidates living in other cities or, in some cases, even the other side of the town thanks to the ridiculously amount of time they have to spend commuting to work.
Although one can easily name the cities that are plagued by lousy traffic conditions, there are few cities in the U.S. that need a traffic makeover more than Atlanta. Of the five million residents living in this metro city, only 10% of them live in Atlanta proper. The rest have houses in suburbs located miles away from the main city. These suburbs fall outside the scope of the public transit network and most people that live here are dependent on their own cars. As a result, we now have a sprawling city that has become infamous for its long average commute time, which is ranked 15th in the country.
However there is good news for traffic-weary Atlantans. This summer, the Georgia Department of Transportation will complete construction of the high-occupancy toll lane that is going to run 16 miles north of the city parallel to I-85, the most heavily trafficked lane in Atlanta. Drivers that want to cut their commute time can zoom down this ‘Express Lane’ – for a price of course!
The cost of getting to work on time without looking all beat up can vary from 10 cents to one dollar per mile depending on the volume of traffic on the rest of the highway. What this means is that the more congestion you have on the freeway, the more you will have to shell out from your pocket to use the fast lane.
This policy works on the theory that higher toll rates will help control the number of cars in the express lane, allowing you to move at faster speeds during rush hour. Over time, the pay lane is expected to become a source of revenue for the Department of Transportation; revenue that will be directed towards other measures to relieve congestion, such as adding public transportation, eventually ensuring that commuters stay off the road and out of their cars in the first place.
The idea of pay lanes is catching on pretty fast and seven other cities, including San Diego and Miami, have started experimenting with them. Malika Wilkins, spokeswoman for the Georgia State Road and Tollway Authority, says “We’re offering people a choice.” Well, if it helps de-congest the traffic in metropolitan cities, I am sure more and more people will welcome this choice, even if they have to pay extra for it.