Cars honked, drivers cheered and one couple had the honor of paying the last toll on the Georgia 400.
Michael and Linda Weinroth were the first people to travel onto the Georgia 400 back in 1993 - on Michael's 48th birthday.
"There was nobody in front of us!" Michael Weinroth said. "I said, 'Sweetheart, I think we're the first ones on this road!'"
Twenty years later, they paid the last toll and recounted all of the changes the road has brought to North Georgia.
"I felt badly for the people whose homes were in the way of 400, but when you think about what the governor said, the explosion of growth up and down 400 and what it's meant to so many people and businesses and it's opened up all of North Georgia - it's just incredible," Michael Weinroth said.
The Weinroths had help from Gov. Nathan Deal to pay the last toll. Deal said getting rid of the toll was one promise he wanted to keep. He said that bonds for the road were paid off more than three years early, which saves taxpayers more than $1 million in interest, and drivers nearly $70 million in tolls.
"I stood in front of these very booths and promised in my first term as governor these booths would come down," Deal said. "Today we followed through with that promise."
End of tolls means end of jobs
While drivers celebrated the tolls being gone, their removal also means that the toll workers who helped make change will have to find new work.
Yolanda Perry has worked on the Georgia 400 in toll booths and as a supervisor for about 13 years. She'll now have to find a new job right before the holidays, but as a contract worker, she said she is hopeful.
"It was good, everything happens for the moment that it's supposed to happen. And it's time for this to end," Perry said. "I'm really not losing my job, I'll get another job."
Big changes for the road
Even though you won't have to pay change to get on Georgia 400 - drivers should expect big changes while traveling.
Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale said work will get underway on transitioning the toll booths out on Friday night.
"This is going to be a different commute, it is going to necessitate everyone slowing down, putting their phones down and really paying attention to what the new Georgia 400 is going to look like," Dale said. "For the next several months, there will be barrels, we'll have workers out there so you need to treat this like an active construction zone and slow down."
Here's a schedule of what will be happening and when:
Friday night, Georgia 400 southbound will be reduced to two lanes as workers add striping to transition toll booths out.
By Monday morning, toll booths will be closed off with concrete barricades, and you will simply drive through the "Peach Pass" lanes. There will be three lanes after work is complete this weekend.
Starting in January, workers will demolish the toll plazas, which include removing toll booths, the roofs and closing up stairwells that workers used to access their booths.
By the fall of 2014, work will be complete. The area that was once toll booths will be green space.
What this could mean for traffic
If the Georgia 400 is free, does that mean more people will want to drive on it? That is something that both the State Road and Tollway Authority and GDOT are looking at.
SRTA Executive Director Chris Tompkins said both entities have been looking at where traffic may now go.
"Once the toll is removed, there are certainly some drivers who have stayed away from Georgia 400 for that very reason," Tomlinson said. "But with the I-85 connector ramps going in, there's going to be a number of changes in the traffic patterns so it's going to be hard to predict."
The road, which was under the authority of SRTA, will now be owned by GDOT.
Keith Golden, with GDOT, said there are nearly 13 projects in the works for the Georgia 400 corridor that are meant to alleviate potential traffic problems.
Copyright 2013WGCL-TV(Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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