I hope you’re not disappointed to learn that I write this column a few days before it posts. As I write this now, the Thanksgiving exodus has begun on the Atlanta freeways. In fact, I have just started anchoring our Triple Team Traffic coverage early, so I’m working in stereo. The Thanksgiving traffic stew is quite hearty.
The corridor most predictably jammed this crazy travel day is I-75 in Clayton and Henry counties. I-75 in Cobb and Cherokee also is seeing its grind rise to a boil. Reversible Express Lanes border each of these freeways and still seem to either take a bad rap or almost completely go unnoticed altogether.
The I-75 Express Lanes south of town are arguably the best bargain on days like this. As the regular thru lanes winnow from four to three, traffic bottlenecks. As I write, I-75/southbound jams below Mt. Zion (Exit 233) and doesn’t break free until almost Hwy. 20/81 (Exit 218). That’s a normal thing to expect on holiday getaway days. I-75/northbound is grinding along from just above Locust Grove (Exit 212) to about Jonesboro Road (Exit 221).
Peach Pass users along I-75/sb can elect to use the Express Lanes if they are heading southbound. In fact, the total trip from I-675 to where the lanes end at Highway 155 (Exit 216) is just under $2 right now. That couple of bucks is saving southside motorists between 20 and 30 minutes, as the toll lanes are wide open.
A downside to the lanes is that they can only help one side of the interstate at a time. Currently, I-75/southbound is moving a bit better than northbound traffic, because of the extra capacity from the Express Lanes. This does leave inbound commuters up the creek, but they still can use Hwy. 42/23 between Locust Grove and Stockbridge as an alternate.
I-75/northbound in Henry County will get Express Lane assistance when they reverse them in that direction. SRTA adjusts the reversals of the lanes based on holiday volume and typically leaves them southbound on both the south and north sides of town until midway through a holiday weekend. Then the State Road and Tollway Authority keeps those same lanes northbound for most of the second half of the heavy-travel extended weekend.
That’s confusing and might not be exact enough for those trying to plan days in advance. SRTA officials sometimes gauge the backups and adjust the times to reverse the lanes. So the best bet when traveling I-75 north or south of Downtown Atlanta is to check the Peach Pass website for the status of the lanes.
Under the “Using Peach Pass” tab on PeachPass.com, click on “Pricing” and then on “Live Toll Rates” on the right side of the page. Then choose the freeway you’re trying to take and highlight the different Peach Pass pricing signs with the cursor. Those same signs also show the direction the lanes are operating.
Remember that the Express Lanes are truly meant for express trips — trips meant for several exits — and not the shorter, local trips. The South Metro Express Lanes really have only one midway entry/exit point, which is at Jonesboro Road. The lanes in Cobb and Cherokee on I-75 and I-575 have a few more, but not nearly as many exits as the regular freeway. So that adds an extra layer of planning to these trips.
Make sure that your friends and family from out of state know that the Florida SunPass and North Carolina NC Quick Pass also work in the Georgia lanes, and the Peach Pass works in those neighboring states. Having this option in the back pocket could be a huge win for the road trip.
Full trips in the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes are often less than a dollar. They’re not much more than that in even high travel periods, as demand sets the pricing and the lanes haven’t caught on as well on this side of town. The Northwest Metro Express Lanes normally do not cost more than a few dollars for full trips during rush hours, and while they have much higher demand, they have improved the toll-free lanes quite a bit. The I-85 HOT lanes are the oldest in the state (October 2011) and have the most usage and, thus, cost the most. But they also often provide an outlet for those trying to save a few minutes.
The first step in preparation for any Metro Atlanta commuter is to go ahead and get a Peach Pass, even if the commute path never heads on freeways with those toll lanes. Have one for those random trips in those corridors, just in case. And then when the opportunity to drive on I-85 north of town or on I-75 on both sides of the city arises, check PeachPass.com for the pricing and for the directions the lanes are open. And, of course, be sure and follow along on 95.5 WSB and our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to see if conditions are bad enough to take the lanes in the first place.
Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxmg.com.