By Melissa Garcia

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. (CBS4)– The mountain commute is about to get a little faster for those who want to pay. The I-70 Mountain Express toll lane from Empire through Idaho Springs eastbound is scheduled to open for the first time Saturday morning.

The Colorado Department of Transportation is using this weekend as a testing period for the express lane so drivers can use it initially free of charge. Thereafter, drivers will pay a variable fee for each trip.

Ryan Wither was headed up to Beaver Creek Friday with family for a weekend skiing trip. He says the commute can be hectic.

“On a good day, it would be two hours, but us and everybody else in the world is going up there right now, so it could be three hours,” said Wither.

Their trip back home this time may be a little quicker, thanks to the I-70 Mountain Express.

Opening Saturday, the new toll lane will continue to open on 73 peak travel days throughout the year, like weekends and holidays.

Overhead signs signal drivers as to when the express lane is open, when it’s closed, and how much it will cost.

“It could range anywhere from $3 to $5 to $10,” said Amy Ford, spokesperson for CDOT. “It’s all about how you use the prices as a way of maintaining reliable travel speeds in the corridor. And when they do that, you should expect that you’ll have 30-minutes time savings when you travel in that lane.”

Some drivers said they prefer the wait over the fee. Others said they’ll use the express lane frequently.

“We’ll definitely do it,” said Wither. “We have kids and it would help everybody out.”

According to Ford, drivers can save money on tolls by getting a pass through CDOT.

“Get yourself a pass, whether it’s the E470 sticker, or the switchable transponder,” said Ford. “Give yourself the choice of using the lane.”

Drivers without a pass can still use the lane at a higher price. Cameras snap a photo of each license plate and a bill is sent to the registered driver.

Unlike some other express lanes, the I-70 Mountain Express is not free for carpoolers.

Inclement weather can prevent the lane from opening until conditions improve.

Melissa Garcia has been reporting for CBS4 News since March 2014. Find her bio here, follow her on Twitter @MelissaGarciaTV, or send your story idea to mkgarcia@cbs.com.

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