The 13-mile tolled express lane on eastbound Interstate 70 from Empire to Idaho Springs has been open for a little more than three months, and it’s helping ease traffic during peak travel periods, according to Colorado Department of Transportation officials.
“Overall, the mountain express lane is working very well,” said Megan Castle, communications manager at the transportation department. “Operationally, it’s bringing great improvements to the corridor.”
The tolled express lane is a converted shoulder that opens 73 days per year during times of high volume traffic — mostly weekends and holidays. It’s part of a larger project that includes widening the tunnels at Idaho Springs and encouraging people to travel at different times.
So far, the only day it has closed due to inclement weather was its first day, Dec. 12. Since then, it has helped visitors to the mountains get back to Denver and the Front Range faster, with more consistent speeds and overall reduced travel times.
“CDOT puts an emphasis on safety first,” Castle said. “We have to plow the roads, and we’re not going to open in a snowstorm.”
“I’ve never used it. I’m always one to plan around; I’m either going to run down late at night or early in the morning.”Aaron BerkmanEagle-Vail resident
On Jan. 2, the I-70 corridor saw record-setting traffic. It was the second highest volume ever in the corridor, and there were also a few accidents. Even with the high-traffic count and accidents, traffic remained “free-flowing,” according to her.
“We were able to use the third lane and flush out that back up,” she said. “We got traffic moving very quickly, as opposed to had it not been there, it might have been backed up for hours.”
With only 73 days to work with in a year, transportation department officials are observing historic travel patterns as well as snow forecasts to close the express lane on weekends with “moderate or light” traffic, she said, and keeping it open on busy days.
WHO’S USING IT
“I have a love-hate relationship with the toll lane,” said Seth Levy, of Gypsum.
He’s a private driver, and sometimes makes multiple trips to Denver in one day for work. He said he comes from locations in Miami and Washington, D.C., with similar express lanes, but the one in Colorado is missing some pieces, he said.
He wishes the express lane could be open more days out of the year, as he’s sat in bumper to bumper traffic right next to the toll lane with no one in it, he said. He also said other states have physical barriers separating express lanes, which cuts back on people “cheating” the lane, he said. He’s also concerned about the payment since snow can cover license plates, and some newly registered cars don’t have plates for three months.
“I love the idea of a tolled express lane,” he said. “When it’s open, it’s worthwhile.”
Aaron Berkman spends time at his Eagle-Vail home when he’s not in California. He said he drives to Denver with his family to spend time at the zoo, go to games and other events.
“I’ve never used it,” he said. “I’m always one to plan around; I’m either going to run down late at night or early in the morning.”
“This has been working well,” Castle said, “but to keep it in perspective, it’s only been three and a half months, so we want to see how it operates during the summer time.”