I-70 Express Lanes Debut for Free — But They Could Cost Up to $40

In recent months, we've been telling you about a new Peak Period Shoulder Lane — shorthanded as PPSL — constructed along a thirteen-mile stretch of Interstate 70 from Floyd Hill to Empire.

Tomorrow — Saturday, December 12 — the lane will finally be available for drivers to use during what the Colorado Department of Transportation has designated as a testing period.

While signs will show toll rates, no charges will be assessed while CDOT works out the kinks of the new system.

Once the testing period is over, however — and CDOT hasn't put a date certain on when it will end — drivers will be charged for using the lanes, with fees determined by the amount of traffic on the highway.

The official range is between $3 and $30, but that's for folks who've set up an ExpressToll account. Drivers who haven't — like visitors in Colorado to ski or locals who don't travel the route every day — will be hit with an additional processing surcharge that will bump the top charge up to $40.

Here's a look at the route:

How were the prices determined? Here's the explanation, as shared in a letter from Brent Butzin, general counsel for the High Performance Transportation Enterprise, a state agency, and Office of Major Project Development representative Joe Mahoney.
HPTE's consultants recommend setting a base toll rate sufficient to cover toll collection costs, but low enough to attract initial customers to the toll lane, even when traffic in the general purpose lanes is relatively light and the corridor is free flowing. Given the unique travel characteristics of the I-70 Mountain Corridor, traffic volumes can increase by 200% to 300% over a period of 2-3 hours. As a result, PPSL operations will require a high level of flexibility to adjust toll rates, as an increased toll rate is the sole mechanism available to better ensure a reliable through-trip for the toll-playing customer....

The specfic toll rate ranges to be recommended by staff and HPTE's consultants suggests a toll rate range from a minimum of $3.00 at initial opening to a maximum toll of $30,00 (at the automated transponder rate). The HPTE has established guidelines for calculating a LPT rate. Based upon these guidelines, it is recommended that the LPT rate be set at the transponder rate in effect plus a surcharge of 35% not to exceed $10.00.
A table from the document shows the rates:

For those interested in trying out the lanes, CDOT offers the following tips:
• There are two entrances and exits:

• Enter at Empire Junction or before the Veterans Memorial Twin Tunnels.

• Express Lane users who want to exit at Idaho Springs may use the signed Express Lane exit for Idaho Springs, prior to Exit 239.

• Travelers exiting I-70 eastbound to US 6 at Floyd Hill (Exit 244) can enter US 6 without a charge.

• Do not cross the solid white line; enter and exit at designated areas only.

• No free HOV, motorcycles or trailers or trucks over 25 feet.

• Travelers will be charged the toll price posted when they entered the Express Lane. If the price should increase or decrease while they are in the lane, drivers will pay the price posted upon entry. The toll price is the same regardless of toll entrance point, Empire or before the Veterans Memorial Tunnels.

• The use of the lane will be impacted by weather or incidents.

• Should an incident occur and traffic is detoured onto or off the Express Lane, no toll will be charged.

• The Express Lane is open weekends and holidays. When not in use, it is a shoulder.

• Get a Pass! ExpressToll saves money each time.

• The same ExpressToll passes (stickers or switchable HOV transponders) that are used on US 36, E-470, I-25 and Northwest Parkway will work on the I-70 Mountain Express Lane.  
Saturday should provide a good test of the lane's effectiveness, given a forecast that puts the chances of snow along the corridor at 80 percent.

We'll soon have a better idea about whether the concept will be as good at saving drivers time as lightening their pocketbooks.

For more information, click here. Continue to watch a CDOT video about the Peak Period Shoulder Lane concept.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts