Extending the time drivers pay tolls on Ga. 400 will allow quicker improvements and better maintenance on the road, the executive director of the state tollway authority told a Sandy Springs business group.

“If we had no extended tolls on Ga. 400, you would not see any improvements on Ga. 400 until 2020,” State Road and Tollway Authority executive director Gena Evans said.

Evans said state officials plan to extend the 50-cent tolls to finance 11 projects, including construction to improve the connection between Ga. 400 and I-85 in Buckhead.

Ga. 400’s tolls had been scheduled to end in 2011, when the original financing for the road was repaid, but the tollway authority, headed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, decided this year to extend the tolls until 2020.

Projects on the list Evans presented to members of the Sandy Springs/Perimeter Chamber on Nov. 15 cost a total of about $67 million. The Ga. 400/I-85 interchange accounted for $40 million of the total.

Evans said the tolls also reduce traffic and driving times on Ga. 18. Removing them would mean an increase of 18 percent in traffic, she said.

“If you think it’s bad now, imagine it with a fifth more [vehicles] than it has now,” said Evans, who was late for her early morning speech because she was caught in traffic.

Without the tolls, she said, maintenance on Ga. 400 would be scheduled by the Georgia Department of Transportation, which has many more miles of roads to look after than the authority.

The authority plans to hold public hearings on the projects list in December and January, she said. The first hearing is scheduled to be held Dec. 9, she said. The public also will be able to comment during those meetings on the decision to extend the tolls, she said.

Asked whether the authority is considering adding toll booths north of I-85, Evans said federal officials “don’t think we’re tolling the proper place.” The authority collects tolls only on the stretch of Ga. 400 south of I-285.

“We lose 100,000 cars at 285,” she said. “We’re definitely looking at long-term strategies on [Ga.] 400.”

Ga. 400 is the only toll road operated by the authority, she said. But state officials expect to add three more tollways in the next few years, including high-occupancy toll lanes on I-85 in 2011 and on I-75 in 2013, and reversible toll lanes on I-75 in 2015, she said.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.