Tolls set for I-70 shoulder lane
By the numbers
72: Number of days a tolled shoulder lane will operate on Interstate 70 in Clear Creek County.
13 miles: Length of the lane.
$3: Base rate for use.
$15: Top published toll rate for high-traffic days.
CLEAR CREEK COUNTY — The Colorado Department of Transportation on Wednesday announced rates for a tolled shoulder lane along Interstate 70. The highest rate announced is $15, with an asterisk — more on that in a moment.
The state this year constructed the 13-mile lane along eastbound I-70 from Empire through the Veterans Memorial Tunnels, just east of Idaho Springs. The $70 million project is intended to ease congestion for drivers headed home to the Front Range. The lane, which is expected to open by the end of this year, is open only to two-axle private passenger vehicles.
In a September interview, CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford said the idea is for speeds on the new lane to stay around 45 mph during stop-and-go traffic on the two existing lanes.
PRICE BASED ON TRAFFIC
To keep volume from clogging up the new lane, tolls will vary, with the rates posted on variable message boards along the highway. According to the rates published Wednesday, the base price will be $3 for morning and early afternoon traffic. Afternoon rates rise to $8 on “typical” volume days, rising to $9 and $10 through the mid- and late-afternoon periods when traffic is at its heaviest. Tolls drop to $5 for evening travel.
On higher-volume days, those toll prices rise to a peak of $15 in the mid-afternoon.
But here’s where the asterisk comes into play.
According to a release from the transportation department, that maximum toll could go higher, “depending on trip reliability and traffic volume.” Ford said in September that the toll could rise as high as $30 during very heavy periods in order to keep traffic from clogging on the shoulder lane.
Another toll lane in the state — along U.S. Highway 36 between Denver and Boulder — is operated by a private company. The I-70 lane will be run by the department of transportation.
ONLY OPEN DURING PEAK PERIODS
The I-70 lane will only be open during heavy traffic periods. The lane will be open for a maximum of 72 days per year. Those days will mostly be on weekends and Monday holidays, with the option of opening the shoulder lane during other heavy-traffic periods.
While the state has posted toll rates, those rates apply only to motorists who already have an ExpressToll account and pass. Other motorists will be charged using a license-plate reader and will receive bills by mail.
Rates will be higher for motorists who don’t have existing accounts. Those rates have yet to be determined.
While the new shoulder lane is for high-traffic periods, the lane will be available at no charge in case other lanes are closed due to accidents.
STRATEGY TO RELIEVE TRAFFIC
The toll lane is part of a state strategy to try to relieve congestion on the interstate through the mountains by taking relatively small steps. A train from Denver International Airport to Eagle County Regional Airport is technically possible, but the cost puts the idea out of reach for the foreseeable future.
Even adding additional lanes along the 100 or so miles between Vail and Denver would cost billions — money the transportation department doesn’t have.
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