Two weeks after its official opening, Colorado Department of Transportation officials see the Interstate 70 Express Lane as a success. The 13-mile toll lane, stretching eastbound between Empire and Idaho Springs, began collecting tolls the weekend of Dec. 19 and opened again Dec. 26 and 27.
“It went really, really well,” CDOT communications director Amy Ford said. “It kept traffic moving and sort of helped with the delay.”
While the toll range was set for $3 to $30, with prices increasing with traffic volume, she said the toll rested at about $3 through the weekend.
“In part, it was because volumes were a little lower last weekend,” she said. “Frankly, things were moving smoothly, so we just left it at $3.”
Prior to the lane’s opening, CDOT expected tolls of $8 to $10 for typical volumes, and $10 to $15 for peak volumes on weekend afternoons.
Without a vehicle transponder, drivers may be charged an slightly increased license plate toll.
On Saturday, the new lane saw 400 vehicles, and on Sunday, it saw double. The lane reopened Monday afternoon to account for drivers returning from the mountains after the holidays.
“If we feel the need to open it, we will,” Ford said. “The lanes can carry anout 1,000 (vehicles) each.”
The target capacity for the lane is 750 to 900 cars per hour, enough traffic to keep speeds moving at a minimum of 45 miles-per-hour. When the mountain corridor sees volumes of 2,000 vehicles-per-hour, congestion begins to build up, while volumes exceeding 3,000 vehicles-per-hour result in stop-and-go traffic.
The Express Lane is intended to function during the busiest days when traffic exceeds a certain volume, especially on ski-season weekends and summer holidays when several visitors take to the road. The remainder of the week, it will function as a shoulder on the interior of the highway.
Unlike other toll lanes in Colorado, the Express Lane is not free for high-occupancy vehicles, with three or more passengers. Ford said the reasoning behind that decision was because the majority of vehicles in the corridor are already filled with passengers.
Although some drivers have raised concerns about the use of the shoulder as a lane, she said with two accidents so far, the lane still worked smoothly. After a small accident in one of the general-purpose lanes, she said traffic was redirected into the Express Lane.
“We worked with Colorado State Patrol, and they started moving traffic into the toll lane for accident clearance,” she said. “It gave us an opportunity to see how the approach works.”
While work to the Express Lane is complete, additional lane closures are planned for next week as crews complete electrical work at the Exit 241 interchange. One-lane closures are slated for the week of Monday, Jan. 4 through Friday, Jan. 8, for both the eastbound and westbound lanes.
Eastbound lane closures are planned from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day, and westbound closures are slated from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A possible ramp closure at Exit 241 may occur between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Work will include additional fiber-optic splicing, the installation of additional signs and paving and guardrail work to finish the new Idaho Springs Bridge at Exit 241.
In the future, overnight work will be planned to demolish the old bridge at Idaho Springs, as well as landscaping and seeding along that segment of the corridor.
Road closures will be weather dependent. For additional information, call 303-223-6581.