• Commentary

Toll Roads: A Solution to Metro Atlanta’s Traffic Nightmare

One of Georgia’s most popular pastimes is complaining about Atlanta’s terrible traffic. Atlanta currently ranks fourth-worst in commute times among U.S. cities and the trends appear to be getting worse. In addition, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) says that traffic has returned to normal compared to traffic levels during the COVID pandemic. It’s time to start implementing solutions to our traffic problems.

A popular solution to congestion is to improve public transportation options. In reality, only 3.5% of Atlanta commuters use public transportation. The vast majority of people commute by car, both because they prefer it and because the city of Atlanta has been designed to account for this preference. Commuting by car has a large impact on congestion, especially considering 77% of Atlantans commute to work alone. Addressing traffic problems in a meaningful way requires solutions for our roads that increase overall capacity, encourage carpooling and that can be built quickly and cost effectively for Georgians.

One necessary part of the solution is creating more toll roads. Since the majority of commuters in Georgia travel by car, the most targeted and impactful solutions will have to address roads.

Toll roads offer a worthwhile solution for many reasons:  

  • They not only provide more lanes, but provide a choice for drivers on the most congested roads during peak travel times and lessen traffic on other free roads.
  • They are flexible in their usage and can be used to incentivise certain options like free passage for 3 or more passengers in a car, transit vehicles, emergency services vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles. 
  • They are paid for by the people who use them rather than all taxpayers, which reduces overall costs to taxpayers, particularly those who are lower income and less likely to own a car.
  • The flow of traffic can be reversed during heavy traffic periods caused by events such as large sporting events, wrecks or other emergency situations.

Debunking Common Misconceptions of Toll Roads:

Toll Roads Only Benefit the Rich:

While the typical toll road user will take advantage of this option 1-2 times per week for time sensitive trips, people of all classes end up benefiting from toll roads. Lower income families often take public transportation such as buses, which in Georgia can use toll roads to reduce commute times. Middle income families often use them during important times, like when running late to work. Upper income families use tolls as well and often contribute to the additional revenues that can be used to fund other projects. 

The Public Pays and Industry Benefits:

It is a misconception that toll road operating companies take all of the money after the public has built the roads. Actually, private firms often put up the majority of the capital (often billions of dollars) and get a slow return on their investment over 50 years. This system allows GDOT to build infrastructure more quickly and apply costs to those who use the roads rather than every taxpayer, while utilizing the expertise of private industry.

Toll Roads Aren’t Common in Georgia:

In Georgia, GDOT has used toll roads to supplement needed infrastructure that would have otherwise been paid for by taxpayers. In 2018, new toll roads that opened on I-75 and I-85 greatly reduced congestion during rush hour. This September, GDOT selected three finalists to expand GA 400. The selection process should be finished by August 2023. GDOT is also in talks to build toll lanes on I-285 to expand capacity and reduce congestion. GDOT says that these projects will benefit all commuters because, “the toll lanes also help those in the ‘free’ lanes because every car in the toll lanes is one that’s not taking up space in the free lanes.”

In Summary:

Toll roads are a vital part of the solution to fix metro Atlanta’s traffic woes. Having more  choices is never a bad thing, and it will benefit everyone on the roads whether they use toll roads or not. It’s also a fairer system because it allows those who directly benefit from toll roads to pay for those benefits rather than having other parts of the state that are often less economically well off pay for infrastructure around Atlanta. GDOT has advocated the expansion and creation of toll roads and should be supported in this mission to improve our traffic situation. Less traffic means lower pollution, lower transportation costs in a time of high gas prices and more time at home with friends and family.