The south end of the express lane allows merger onto I-285 or I-75.
New NW express lanes speed Atlanta travel
Story and photos by Wayne Tidwell
After three years of construction and an $834 million investment, the 30-mile Northwest Corridor Express Lanes project is complete and offers a faster trip from Cherokee County to I-285 in Atlanta if you are willing to pay for it.
The express toll lanes opened the morning of Sept. 8 and will be free for Peach Pass holders until Sept. 22. After that, dynamic pricing will be applied based on the traffic, time of day and day of the week. A minimum toll will be 10 cents per mile and will rise depending on demand. When demand is very low, the tolls may be switched to a fixed rate of 50 cents per trip regardless of length. Electronic signs with the current toll are posted at entrances to lanes.
On the opening weekend the reversible lanes were open to southbound traffic only. A trip on the express lanes Sunday afternoon from the first southbound entrance near Sixes Road in Cherokee County to the end of the lanes near I-285 showed that even on a Sunday afternoon the trip to Atlanta can be faster and stress free.
The express lanes can also be entered on I-75 at Hickory Grove Road. The two single-lane express lanes merge and become two-lane from the merger to I-285. A project map at peachpass.com shows all of the access points on I-75 and I-575.
On Sunday the traffic on the express lanes was light and traffic moved at 65-70 mph (the speed limit there is 65 mph). The traffic volume picked up after the merger but was still moving fast. Traffic on I-75 was heavier and the express lane traffic moved much faster than the I-75 traffic making the whole trip about 20 minutes from Sixes Road to the merger into the I-75 HOV lane near Akers Mill Road.
Exit and entry along the express lanes are surprisingly easy but might be less easy during rush hours. Repaving of most of I-575 and I-75 along the express lanes made transitions smooth.
The express lanes definitely offer a faster trip to points south including Suntrust Park and the airport and for commuters who work in Atlanta and live in the northern suburbs.
Project estimates show the lanes are expected to take on 16.9 million annual trips on average by 2040, saving commuters up to 43 minutes on the express lanes and 16 minutes on general-purpose lanes.
Peach Pass required
The express toll lanes do not use toll booths. All fees are collected electronically using the Peach Pass, a small electronic sticker that drivers put on the inside of their windshields. After registering and installing the Peach Pass, drivers can monitor their tolls and account balance using a mobile application or online.
To obtain a Peach Pass, drivers can visit PeachPass.com or call 1-855-PCHPASS (724-7277) to open an account and register their vehicle or vehicles. Retail centers are also available for those who want to buy a pass and register their vehicle in person. Cobb has a retail center in Kennesaw at 3690 Old Highway 41 NW.
The transponder is free when obtained through the State Road and Tollway Authority, though a minimum prepayment of $20 and a credit or debit card for future payment is required to set up a Peach Pass account. Each vehicle in a household must obtain a separate Peach Pass transponder, but a household can share an account for up to 10 vehicles, according to the website.
Reversible lane schedules
Open southbound 12:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Southbound to northbound transition 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Open northbound 1 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Northbound to southbound transition 10:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.
Open northbound 1 p.m. Friday to 11 a.m. Saturday
Northbound to southbound transition 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
Open southbound 1 p.m. Saturday to 11 a.m. Monday (per normal weekday operations)
The Northwest Corridor Express Lane entry near Sixes Road in Cherokee County.