Denver, CO – The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) will have a variable toll lane in operation along a key 13-mile stretch of eastbound I-70 in time for this winter, in an effort to lessen snarled traffic on busy ski weekends.
Ski weekend traffic on I-70 has been a long-standing issue in Colorado, particularly eastbound on Sunday evenings. “Given the unique travel characteristics of the I-70 Mountain Corridor, traffic conditions can increase 200% to 300% over a period of two to three hours,” the Colorado High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HDTE) estimates.
The Peak Period Shoulder Lane (PPSL), which will open on busy weekends and holidays from Empire Junction to the Twin Tunnels near Idaho Springs, will utilize the existing inside median shoulder as an additional travel lane. Toll prices will vary depending on time of day and congestion levels, and are expected to run from $3 at initial opening when traffic starts building, usually between 7:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., to encourage toll lane utilization, up to $30 during peak periods. The heaviest traffic in the corridor typically occurs between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. HOV and motorcycle exceptions will not be granted for the toll. Current pricing will be displayed at the beginning of the toll lane and online at cotrip.org. Tolls will be paid via an ExpressToll transponder, and those without a transponder will be billed a higher rate as license plate numbers are captured.
Operations are not to exceed 72 days per year. Weather and snowstorms could force toll lane closure for plowing.
As the shoulder lane is a foot narrower than the existing travel lanes, trucks, trailers, vehicles with more than two axles and any vehicle longer than 25 feet will be unable to use the toll lane.
It is hoped that the new toll lane will reduce drive times for skiers returning from the mountains to the Denver metro area on busy weekends, not only for those using the toll lane, but also for drivers using the two free through lanes as congestion in those lanes will be reduced as well. The HDTE indicates that traffic speed begins to degrade from the posted 55 mph speed limit at 2,000 vehicles per hour, and moves at only 5-10 mph at 3,000 vehicles per hour. The toll lane is expected to handle 750-900 vehicles per hour.
The project is expected to cost $72 million, with a $25 million loan obtained through the HDTE helping to finance the effort. Tolls will be used to offset a portion of the costs. The HDTE indicates that the I-70 Mountain Corridor will be the first toll road operation in the nation focused exclusively on a recreation corridor.