IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4) – A controversial plan for a new toll lane along Interstate 70 through the mountain corridor was the subject of a meeting Tuesday night. The Colorado Department of Transportation wanted feedback for their plan.
For drivers who said they would give anything not to be stuck in mountain traffic, CDOT is now holding them to that promise.
“Basically travelers need to decide: if you are paying to have recreation, are you also going to pay and invest also in your transportation and your time?” said CDOT Communications Manager Megan Castle.
The I-70 Express Lane between the twin Veterans Memorial Tunnels near Idaho Springs and the Empire exit will allow eastbound traffic to use a newly built “shoulder lane” during peak travel periods.
The toll on the 13-mile stretch will vary based on how many cars are slowing down traffic, starting at $3 and increasing all the way to $30.
“We want to have the flexibility to make sure the people who pay to use that lane are going to be getting a reliable travel time at about 45 miles an hour,” Castle said.
Tempers always boil when plans arise for mountain corridor traffic. There is no way to fully solve the problem without billions of dollars in funding and significantly more construction.
Some other states have flexible-toll express lanes, but Colorado’s toll idea is unusual because it would apply mostly to winter recreational travelers, not workday commuters. The ski lane would be open only 72 days a year — weekends and Monday holidays.
Locals are tired of constant construction and skeptical of the plan.
“There is just so much traffic that I don’t really know if it will solve anything at all anyway,” said one woman at the meeting.
“If you’re heading from Vail to the airport, and you’re half an hour late, $30 is pretty cheap,” said Idaho Springs resident Jim Thomas.
He worries locals will suffer the most from new tolls. On a busy Sunday, every road in Clear Creek County is fully jammed. Thomas said he’s not sure how he will use the pay lane.
“I appreciate all the efforts that are going into it, trying to do something because of the congestion, but I’m a little doubtful,” he said.
The express lane project will cost CDOT more than $70 million with an additional $20 million on a loan. The high toll fees will help pay off the loan and in the future will go toward maintaining the program.