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Letter: Express lane explained

This letter is in response to Vince Emmer’s column regarding government transparency and the tolling operations for the I-70 Mountain Express Lanes.

I thought I owed it to him and the public to explain a bit about the I-70 Mountain Express Lane between Empire and Idaho Springs. I represent the I-70 mountain corridor on the board of directors for the state’s High Performance Transportation Enterprise. HPTE helps CDOT identify and implement innovative financing solutions to advance the construction of roadway infrastructure projects sorely needed by our residents and visitors. I appreciate Emmer’s feedback on the need for greater clarity on signage for the I-70 Mountain Express Lane, and I will raise this topic at the next HPTE board meeting.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to clarify a few points about the express lane and its tolling. The addition of this toll lane, including its license plate toll and express toll, was certainly not a money grab by CDOT. One objective in the public vision for the I-70 mountain corridor is to keep the views as free from signs as we safely can. We hope to avoid an urban feel along the spectacular drive from Denver to the West Slope, and CDOT designed and installed the express lane signage in that spirit. Nevertheless, I will be sure to work with CDOT and HPTE to explore ways to make existing tolling signage more informative and easier to understand.

In the meantime, any driver who was charged a license plate toll can contact ExpressToll (www.expresstoll.com), establish an account for lane usage (there are many such lanes across Colorado), and receive a refund for the difference between the license plate toll and the express toll. The surcharge in the license plate toll exists to cover the additional processing and postage required for billing and collection.

There is a down payment of $35 to open an account, a deposit from which future toll fees will be collected. CDOT’s goal is to maximize the number of users who take advantage of the prepaid accounts and thereby pay only the toll, not more.

The Mountain Express Lane has provided much-needed relief along the corridor. One of the biggest benefits is the improved performance of the general purpose lanes for all travelers. This past summer, travelers in these free lanes saw travel times improve by up to 21 minutes in that short 13-mile segment during peak travel times on Saturdays and Sundays. In the past, the corridor would begin to bog down to 20-30 mph when volumes surpassed 40,000 vehicles per day. Now, we see volumes of over 46,000 vehicles with travel speeds still up in the 45 mph range. That’s a great benefit to all of us, providing more certainty when traveling to the Front Range.

I encourage you to sign up now or simply take advantage of the improved flow and travel in the free lanes.

Thad Noll
assistant Summit County manager