CDOT’s Interstate 70 tolled express lane set for live test run this weekend | VailDaily.com

CDOT’s Interstate 70 tolled express lane set for live test run this weekend

The 13-mile tolled express lane on Interstate 70, stretching from Empire to Idaho Springs, features a fluctuating toll for a shoulder designed to function as a lane 73 days per year.
Courtesy of the Colorado Department of Transportation | Colorado Department of Transport

What you need to know about the toll lane:

What is it? The Colorado Department of Transportation has completed construction converting the eastbound shoulder into a 13-mile express lane. During peak periods, the shoulder will open as a tolled express lane to alleviate eastbound traffic between Empire and Idaho Springs.

When will it be available? The express lane will open during peak periods — mainly weekends and a few holidays. It will be open about 70 days this winter.

Where to enter/exit? The tolled express lane will have marked entry and exit points and will be marked off with lines on the road, not barriers.

How to pay? Drivers can use CDOT’s E-470 Pass or a photograph will be taken of your license plate and you will be billed that way. Cost will vary throughout the season depending on traffic.

More information: Visit CDOT’s website at www.codot.gov. For mobile updates, simply text “CDOT” to 25827.

VAIL — Drivers heading eastbound on Interstate 70 to Denver this weekend will have the opportunity to test the Colorado Department of Transportation’s new express lane along one of the busiest stretches of the mountain corridor for free.

The department of transportation has completed the 13-mile stretch from Empire to Idaho Springs and will test all of the equipment and pricing to make sure it works this weekend, weather permitting.

In attempts to alleviate the winter traffic along the I-70 mountain corridor, the department of transportation now has the ability to turn the shoulder into a tolled express lane during peak travel times, mainly weekends and holidays. All other days, the lane will return to being a shoulder.

HOW IT WORKS

The lane is not separated by any barriers but will be designated with lines on the road. Drivers are encouraged to enter and exit the toll lane in designated areas, namely entering at the beginning near Empire. Once commuters enter the toll lane, they are charged for the entire 13-mile stretch. Drivers wishing to exit to Idaho Springs will have a four-hour grace period to return to the toll lane before being charged again.

This weekend’s opening of the tolled express lane will not charge drivers for use, but fees will fluctuate the rest of the winter depending on conditions.

The express lane will be tolled to ensure its success. If the price is too low, then too many drivers will opt for it and create traffic. If the price is too high, then no one will use it and the other two lanes will become clogged. Throughout the season, the department of transportation will be monitoring the prices to make sure the express lane is used to its full potential.

Payment for using the toll lane happens one of two ways. The department of transportation recommends purchasing the E-470 Pass, which is a sticker or a switchable transponder, allowing drivers to be billed. Alternatively, anyone can drive on the express lane and be charged via their license plate, which is photographed along the lane. The license plate billing will cost a little more, as it requires a manual process that has associated costs.

Drivers will see signs showing different toll rates during the testing period. However, tolls will be waived on this section of I-70 this weekend. Drivers are reminded that the express lane is not an HOV lane.

“It’s for people returning home to the Front Range,” said Amy Ford, of the Colorado Department of Transportation. “If you’re traveling in that lane, you can expect about a 30-minute time savings over those who are traveling in the free general purpose lanes. But we believe that the overall benefit is that you’re adding capacity to the corridor during these high period times, and so we think they will be a benefit to everyone, whether you choose to use the lane or not.”

The tolled express lane, set to be open 73 days out of the year, will remove the capacity of the shoulder, as that will now be the tolled lane. CDOT will manage all lanes during peak periods, as accidents will no longer be able to be moved to the shoulder.

Extreme, inclement weather will also impact whether the lane can run or not. With snow in the forecast, this weekend will be a good dry run to see if CDOT can clear and make the road as safe as possible.

WILL IT WORK?

Ken Hoeve makes the eastbound drive to Denver once or twice a day for his private transportation service. He has been making the drive for many years and is skeptical that a single lane during peak times will alleviate the nightmare that many people endure when driving back to Denver on a Sunday.

Visitors come out for vacation and want to stay as long as possible, and Hoeve sees many people wanting to squeeze in a few Sunday runs before flying out of Denver on a Sunday night flight. He used to recommend about four hours for the commute, but now he advises about six or seven hours, depending on weather, for the 100-mile trip.

“I think this year we’ll see a record amount of time,” Hoeve said. “What people should do with their Instagram accounts, for those awesome powder day photos they post, they should also post a picture of them sitting in traffic.”

Reporter Ross Leonhart can be reached at 970-748-2915 and rleonhart@vaildaily.com. Follow him on Instagram @Colorado_Livin_On_The_Hill.