I-70 mountain toll lane opens Saturday
The Colorado Department of Transportation is preparing to unveil its latest effort to reduce traffic headaches for motorists who are returning home from ski areas and resort towns via Interstate 70.
Weather permitting, drivers on Saturday will be able to test out the new I-70 Mountain Express Lane, which runs east from Empire to Idaho Springs.
Tolls for the new lane, which was formerly a shoulder, will be waived during the testing phase.
After that, drivers will be able to choose whether to spend between $3 and $30 to shave time from their trips along the busy interstate.
To help ensure the new lane doesn’t become too congested, the pricing will be dynamic, meaning the toll will go up when more drivers use the lane.
The lane will only be open during peak travel times.
CDOT estimates if between 750 and 900 vehicles use the express lane each hour during heavy traffic times, drivers in the existing free lanes will be able to move more reliably at about 40 miles per hour.
Officials hope the lane will help alleviate traffic jams on the portion of the interstate that fills up quickly as skiers and summer travelers return home to the Front Range from Steamboat Springs and other resort towns on the Western Slope.
CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt told the Denver Business Journal the lane will not be a magic bullet that will solve all the traffic woes on the interstate.
“This is a lane that’s open on certain days, at certain times, under certain conditions,” Bhatt told the Business Journal. “It’s not a panacea. People should not expect this to fix all traffic problems in the mountains. It’s a compromise, and like most compromises, there are good things and things that aren’t so good.”
Transportation Commission Chairwoman Kathy Connell said Thursday she is cautiously optimistic about the new express lane.
“I’m excited about it because, if it works, great, it helps us out,” Connell said.
But, she added, the fact that the lane can only be open on 72 days out of a year makes her nervous.
“I think anytime it’s on sometimes and off other times, I’m worried about the public getting it,” she said. “And I think we still haven’t solved our problem of capacity. We’re helping out a little bit of it.”
She said a majority of the clogs on the interstate arise when a large truck spins out and blocks a portion of the road or when passenger vehicles without adequate tires or traction equipment get stuck.
CDOT is attempting to address this problem with a more frequent use of the state’s traction law.
Between Oct. 22 and Dec. 1, the traction law was implemented 66 times.
When the traction law is in force, passenger vehicles must either have the proper tires or a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle.
Drivers can also use chains or an alternative traction device if they don’t have the proper tires.
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