7:00am

Mon June 23, 2014
Transportation

CDOT To Start Work On I-70 Shoulder Express Lane In Fall

After the high of a powder-perfect ski weekend, Colorado downhillers returning to the Front Range often face the buzzkill of a traffic-clogged I-70 eastbound trip.

The state's Department of Transportation will start construction on a solution to that problem in a few months, spokeswoman Amy Ford said.

CDOT will soon begin work on a temporary express lane on the shoulder of I-70, to be used during peak travel periods.

"We hope to start construction on this project here later this fall, and the goal is these lanes would be open the fall of 2015," said Ford.

The transportation department has released a video simulation showing how the express lane, a $40-50 million project, would work.

Express lanes, which are in use in a few other states, like Florida, Virginia, and California, allow drivers to pay for the privilege of using a faster lane. In the case of the I-70 project, the lane's price would vary, lowering when the department wants to encourage drivers to use the lane, and rising when it becomes full, to discourage others from entering. Ford said she did not have details on the pricing levels at this time.

The express lane would only be open during peak traffic times, such as weekend afternoons, and will run eastbound from Empire Junction to Idaho Springs, said Ford. CDOT is also looking at installing a shoulder express lane on westbound I-70, although it does not have funding for that yet. The new eastbound express lane should be able to save drivers 30 minutes that they otherwise would be spending in traffic.

The shoulder express lanes are seen as temporary fixes for the I-70 corridor, said Ford. The transportation department had to get approval from the federal government to pave over the shoulders and use them as a lane.

During the construction, the work will be timed to "minimize the inconvenience to the traveling public as much as we can," said Ford. The construction mostly involves paving the shoulder to ensure it can bear the extra express lane traffic, installing signs and doing median work. Drivers will probably not see construction during weekends or heavy travel times, said Ford.

"But certainly we will be out there constructing this as quickly as we can to get it into place, as it really makes a difference in the travel times."

Other, longer term solutions such as a third bore through the Eisenhower tunnel or transit alternatives like high-speed rail can range from $5 billion to $20 billion. The state doesn't have that money right now, said Ford.

"So it will be a lot of shorter term fixes."