This past summer and fall, anyone traveling to or from Summit County probably drove through road construction at some point as workers paved the way for installation of a new toll lane on a section of the Eastbound I-70 corridor between Empire and Idaho Springs. This new lane is one solution of many proposed ideas to help to alleviate some of the heavy traffic congestion issues, particularly on the weekends and holidays during the ski season. Drivers who use the new toll lane can expect to shave up to 30 minutes off of a typical drive to Denver on a Sunday in ‘ski traffic’. Other solutions that are being put into action this winter include the enforcement of Traction Laws and Passenger Vehicle Chain Laws.
How the Toll Lane Will Work:
The new Eastbound toll lane is scheduled to be open for use starting Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. Availability of the Mountain Express Toll Lane will be offered 73 days per year and only during periods of peak travel such as the weekends and holidays. The Express Lane stretches for 13 miles along eastbound I-70 from the Empire Junction through the Veterans Memorial Tunnels (aka Twin Tunnels) in Idaho Springs. When the lane is not open it will be considered a shoulder and it likely won’t be open during heavy snow periods.
When tolling commences, electronic message signs on the Mountain Express Toll Lane will clearly display the current toll price prior to Express Lane entrance points, so motorists will know how much they will be charged if they choose to take advantage of the lane.
Limitations on the Lane:
Semi-trailers, vehicles with more than two axles, buses or any trailers over 25 feet will not be allowed to use the lane. There is no set number of passengers required to use the lane and motorcycles are permitted as well, but keep in mind that anyone using the Express lane will be charged for use. High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV), motorcycles and hybrids will pay the same fees as everyone else; there are no free uses during normal operation.
Rates and Toll Collection:
There are two ways for drivers to use the lane, with an ‘ExpressToll’ account, aimed at regular users or a ‘License Plate Toll’, which is how a typical visitor would likely use the lane. The base toll rate for ExpressToll pass holders is $3 and with typical traffic volumes, it may range between $8 and $10. At high traffic volumes, the afternoon rate ranges between $10 and $15 or higher depending upon trip reliability and traffic volume. The concept is basic- as traffic increases, the toll prices increase in order to keep the traffic moving. Drivers who don’t hold a pass, using License Plate Tolling, will pay the toll plus an additional surcharge fee to cover the increased costs of processing the transaction without a pass. The bill will be sent to the registered vehicle owner. There is no traditional ‘toll booth’, as overhead readers track tolling instead of requiring a stop and pay method.
The two existing general purpose lanes will remain free and open to all travelers at all times. If traffic gets detoured onto the Express Lane during an incident on I-70 or if there is an incident on the Express Lane, no tolls will be charged.
CDOT encourages motorists using the Express Lanes on I-70 to get an ExpressToll account and pass to save money on tolls every time. The electronic pass means motorists with a pass will be charged automatically for the toll and avoid additional fees associated with License Plate Tolling. Express Toll accounts and passes may be obtained at www.ExpressToll.com or you may call 303-537-3470 for more information.
Here is an example of the toll rates during a high volume time:
License Plate Toll
We are excited to see how this new Express Toll lane can help locals and visitors alike experience easier and faster travel to and from the mountains this winter. In addition to the new toll lane, there are some other tips to ensure a quick trip to the airport. Stay Sunday night or opt for our late 8 pm Sunday checkout option and avoid the peak Sunday travel times. Do you have flexible vacation dates? Book your winter ski vacation for a non-peak weekend or even a mid-week stay, avoiding school breaks and holiday weekends. You will find wide open runs, short to no lift lines and better lodging rates and property selection. Call a SummitCove vacation planner today so we can help you find your perfect Keystone vacation rental.
Written By: Rusty Simmons