I-70 express lane will open Saturday for testing
The new Interstate 70 express lane is set to open this Saturday, Dec. 12, under a free testing period for all drivers. The peak-period lane was constructed as a means to alleviate congestion in the corridor during busy ski weekends, by guaranteeing a consistent minimum speed of 45 miles per hour to those who choose to pay a toll.
Improvements to the shoulder on eastbound I-70 began as early as last fall.
“We’ve been working with CDOT on this forever,” Clear Creek public information officer John Bryan said. “I think we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel now.”
The testing period is intended to help the Colorado Department of Transportation set fee estimates for the lane, test license plate cameras, ExpressToll transponders and other equipment. Vehicles that enter the lane on Saturday and Sunday will not be charged a toll.
On weekdays, the lane will return to its original use, as a shoulder along the highway’s interior. The lane will be open on weekends during the ski season, as well as holidays.
“Drivers can use this testing period as an opportunity to try the new express lane and experience the new configuration of the highway, without paying a toll,” CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt said in a statement. “The express lane will bring much needed capacity during peak travel times to this critical mountain corridor that connects our Front Range residents and tourists to our world-class recreational opportunities.”
The 13-mile expansion will run between Empire and Idaho Springs, an area of the corridor especially prone to congestion. The lane will have two entrances to give drivers an opportunity to stop at Idaho Springs and re-enter the lane without a second charge. Drivers may not cross the solid white line bordering the lane to enter or exit.
With tolls capped at $30, the express lane may be the most expensive in the state. However, tolls for typical volumes are estimated between $8 and $10, and afternoon peak volumes between $10 and $15. The base rate will be $3 when the lane is on.
“If they want to pay the toll, they can go through a little bit quicker,” Bryan said. “In the end, I think it’s gonna be successful for everyone.”
CDOT communications director Amy Ford said the end of the testing period would be announced on signs leading up to the express lane, though a date has not been set yet.
“After next week, we will have a sense of how long we’ll have lane open during peak hours,” she said. “We will see if we need to do any testing and make sure everything’s working properly.”
The lane will likely close under icy conditions, and charges will be waived if the lane is needed to navigate an accident. However, for many residents, the question of safety without a shoulder is a sticking point.
“When you shorten the side shoulder lanes, there are concerns there,” Bryan said. “I would say CDOT’s been a good partner working with the county. They’ve taken time here to listen to our concerns.”
Enforcement of proper lane use may require additional Colorado State Patrol deputies or local police officers. Once CDOT begins collecting tolls, the funds will be used to cover loans taken to cover construction costs, and for long-term maintenance of the road.
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