New I-70 mountain express lane expected to open by year’s end
Steamboat Springs — Drivers who get stuck in peak-time traffic on eastbound Interstate 70 in the mountains will soon be able to pay to get to their destination faster.
The Colorado Department of Transportation is preparing to open a new, 13-mile-long mountain express lane between the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnels and the top of Floyd Hill.
The toll lane, which will be available on up to 72 busy travel days and holidays of the year, is expected to open as the ski season ramps up in December.
Prices for the lane could range from $3 to $30.
Community members on the Western Slope will be able to weigh in on the proposed pricing Sept. 21 during a telephone town hall hosted by CDOT.
“It’s really going to be an important pilot project to watch to see how it moves,” Colorado Transportation Commission Chairwoman Kathy Connell said. “This is going to be a unique little puppy.”
CDOT officials say the mountain toll lane will be the first of its kind in the nation because it is geared specifically toward recreational travelers heading back from the mountains and not commuters or high occupancy vehicles.
Connell said it will be important to make the lane easy to use.
Because the lane doubles as an improved shoulder when not in use, CDOT has reached an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration that will only allow the lane to be used a limited number of days during the year.
“That, to me, is going to be an interesting challenge,” Connell said.
The express lane is expected to shave an average of 30 minutes from a trip on I-70.
And because it doesn’t take away any of the existing free lanes, it should also reduce the travel time for those who choose to stay on the non-toll portion of the interstate.
“Removing traffic from the existing two lanes will help everybody,” CDOT spokeswoman Emily Wilfong said.
Wilfong said the goal is to allow express lane travelers to maintain a minimum speed of 40-45 miles per hour, even during heavy traffic congestion on the interstate.
The toll pricing will be dynamic, meaning the price will go up as more people hop on the express lane to discourage more drivers from congesting it.
Drivers with ExpressToll transponders will pay less for using the express lane, while those without the transponders will be billed after their license plates are photographed in the lane.
The express lane is being created as part of a $72 million project that also reconstructed a bridge in Idaho Springs to ease on and off ramp congestion.
“It’s innovative in its concept,” Connell said of the express lane. “If it works, hallelujah, because, as you and I both know, our congestion on I-70 isn’t all bald tire and weather related.”
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