NORTH FULTON, Ga. – When Gov. Nathan Deal announced July 20 that he was ending the Ga. 400 tolls at the end of 2013, it met near universal rejoicing up and down the corridor.
When the original debt the Ga. 400 tolls were enacted to retire was paid off, motorists who traveled the corridor expected the toll booths to come down. That didn’t happen. Former Gov. Sonny Perdue and the State Roads and Tollway Authority extended the toll for another 10 years to repay a new $40 million bond for the Ga. 400 corridor.
People were upset that a tax that was supposed to go away instead got new life. Deal said a major reason for ending the toll on Ga. 400 was to “keep faith” with the public.
The state will pay off its bond debt Dec. 1, 2013, and move rapidly after that to remove the Ga. 400 toll by the end of that year. This will stop collection four years earlier than previously planned.
“Ga. 400 commuters have paid more than their fair share already, and this is the earliest we can bring it down without paying a penalty for early repayment of the bonds,” Deal said. “When the Ga. 400 toll went up, the state of Georgia promised commuters that it wasn’t forever. If we don’t keep that promise, we lose the faith of the people.”
The Ga. 400 extension has been of inestimable value to the entire Ga. 400 corridor. Not only has it made a more direct route to connect the citizens of the corridor and Atlanta, it has opened up the entire corridor to the development it has experienced.
The Ga. 400 extension is also a direct connection to the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, the busiest in the world. People and goods move up and down the Ga. 400 extension directly to Hartsfield. It created a bridge to the downtown and the airport.
The Ga. 400 toll was originally scheduled to come down after 20 years, ending in 2011. In 2010 – after then-candidate Deal promised to end the toll the following year – the state issued new bonds tied to the toll revenue in order to pay for needed improvements in the Ga. 400 corridor, including a new connector to I-85.
The $40 million in new bonds were issued Dec. 1, 2010, and they mature June 1, 2017. But at the three-year mark, the state can repay the bonds without a penalty.
Many elected officials and business people applauded Deal’s action.
Brandon Beach, both president of the Greater North Fulton Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Georgia Department of Transportation, called the governor’s action “a bold move.”
“I’m proud of the close involvement the Georgia Department of Transportation played in bringing the toll to an end. I was honored to stand with the governor as he made the announcement,” Beach said.
State Sen. John Albers added his support of the end of the toll.
“I applaud Gov. Deal for upholding his promise to remove the Ga. 400 toll. Although meant to be a temporary source of infrastructure revenue, the 400 toll has become a transportation barrier,” Albers said.
Alpharetta Mayor David Belle Isle singled out the governor for his “courage and leadership” in removing the tolls.
“It will go a long way toward restoring the public confidence in our state government and creating the public trust needed for future state endeavors,” Belle Isle said. “The bottom line: We were promised the toll would be removed once Ga. 400 was paid for. The state needed to honor that promise.”