Initial testing is over for the Colorado Department of Transportation’s Interstate 70 Express Lane. CDOT will begin collecting tolls for the 13-mile shoulder lane on Saturday, Dec. 19.
“The equipment worked the way we wanted it to,” CDOT communications director Amy Ford said. “The tolling will be on.”
Unlike other tolls lanes throughout the state, the I-70 Express Lane will only be open 73 days per year, during “peak periods” such as ski season weekends and summer holidays. While tolls can range from $3 to a whopping $30, rates are expected to range between $8 and $15.
“The weekend after Christmas will be very busy,” assistant county manager Thad Noll said. “Throughout the year, (I-70) almost always reaches capacity on Sundays and very frequently on Saturdays. So it’s not only confined to holidays.”
While CDOT did not collect tolls last weekend, cars were allowed to pass through the lane as a means of testing cameras and other equipment. Ford said on Sunday alone about 34,000 cars travelled eastbound through the mountain corridor.
While all of the equipment functioned well during testing last week, there was one hitch: Drivers attempted to use the express lane when it was turned off, intended to function as a shoulder.
“About 150 people used the lane after it closed this weekend,” Ford said. “That is something we will be working on as well over time.”
Now that the lane is fully functional, tolls will be collected as a means of maintaining a steady flow of traffic. As congestion, and demand increases, tolls will also rise with the goal of maintaining a steady speed of 45 miles per hour. CDOT also hopes the addition of the toll lane will help reduce congestion in the two existing lanes.
“We’re frequently picking people up or dropping people off at airports. That’s one direct benefit,” Noll said. “The other big benefit is really economically — it makes it easier for people to come up here.”
On average, the corridor sees about 30,000 vehicles per day, with numbers ramping up through the holiday and early spring. CDOT stands to profit by opening the lane just before Christmas, with more than 400,000 cars passing through the Eisenhower-Johnson Memorial Tunnels during Christmas week last year.
“That will be a work in process as we look at how we use tolling pricing to manage traffic in the lane,” Ford said. “We will have brand-new drivers in the corridor each weekend.”
The eastbound lane in particular is prone to Sunday afternoon congestion, as Front Range visitors drive down the mountains after the lifts close. The lane targets the chokepoint between Empire and Idaho Springs, where drivers from Loveland Pass, Berthoud Pass and I-70 merge together.
In the future, CDOT may look to create a similar lane westbound, once funding is available.
To use the lane, drivers may purchase an ExpressToll pass online and attach it to their cars. Those without a pass may also use a lane, but will be subject to a higher license plate toll rate.