I-70 express lane toll rates, tolling date set for northeast Denver

Drivers who have zipped along the new Interstate 70 express toll lanes in northeast Denver for free during a monthslong testing period soon will have to pay to beat traffic.

The Colorado Department of Transportation aims to start tolling on Feb. 28.  Drivers will pay tolls of up to $4.50 — or up to $10 for drivers who lack an ExpressToll transponder — for access at the busiest time of day under a rate schedule approved Wednesday by CDOT’s enterprise arm. The start of automated tolling is one of the final milestones of the $1.3 billion Central 70 expansion project.

Tolls will be flat-rate, applying seven days a week to the entire 10-mile express lane corridor between Interstate 25 in Denver and Chambers Road in Aurora. The express lanes have three entrance and exit points in each direction.

The maximum $4.50 toll for ExpressToll account holders will apply, in both directions, during the morning rush hour from 6 to 9 a.m. Charges will fluctuate between $2.50 and $3.25 during the rest of the day before dropping to $1.50 at 7 p.m., with that rate applying overnight.

Tolls charged via license-plate tolling, including for out-of-state drivers, will run between $4.26 and $10.08, depending on the time of day and the direction of travel.

But not all drivers will pay to use the express lanes.

Like some other CDOT express-lane corridors, the Central 70 toll lanes will allow free access for vehicles carrying at least three passengers (a switchable HOV transponder is required), as well as for motorcyclists and public transit providers.

Some neighbors also will get free access under a Central 70 project mitigation program that will provide transponders and $100 in toll credits to residents of Denver’s Elyria-Swansea and Globeville neighborhoods, if they meet certain income requirements. That $1 million program also includes the distribution of nearly 8,000 free transit ride books in those communities for use on Regional Transportation District buses and trains, along with the potential for recurring toll credits and additional free transit passes each year.

Big-rig trucks can use the I-70 toll lanes, but any vehicle with four axles or more will be charged an extra $25.

The Central 70 project rebuilt major sections of I-70 and widened the corridor to make room for the express lanes. While the project was intended to smooth the flow of traffic on the major corridor, officials acknowledged the project wouldn’t eliminate congestion. But they aimed to give drivers the option of a faster ride.

“Express lanes are always a choice, and you can use them for a more reliable trip time,” CDOT spokesman Tim Hoover said Wednesday during a presentation to the board of the Colorado Transportation Investment Office, which oversees tolling initiatives.

The toll schedule is based on daily traffic patterns, with higher rates at times of greater congestion to keep traffic moving quickly in the express lanes. It’s possible the maximum rate, capped at $4.50 in the first year, could increase next year.

For now, assuming a driver uses an express lane for the entire length of the corridor, the per-mile maximum rate, 45 cents, is roughly on par with U.S. 36 and Interstate 25 through the north suburbs. But drivers who use shorter segments of the I-70 lanes will pay a much higher per-mile rate.

CDOT aims at some point — potentially later this year — to change tolling on its expanding metro Denver express-lanes network from set daily toll schedules to dynamic tolling. Under that setup, which has been used on the I-70 mountain express lanes near Idaho Springs, tolls would increase or decrease in response to traffic levels in the general lanes.

Details about neighborhood equity program

CDOT plans to launch its “tolling equity program” for Globeville and Elyria-Swansea in late February.

Along with a cover park built over the highway, the program is part of a package of project mitigations meant to compensate for the impact of construction, including the bulldozing of 56 homes and 17 businesses to make room for the expanded highway.

Neighborhood residents — and anyone displaced by the project — can receive the initial toll credits if their household income is 200% or less of the federal poverty level. That works out to $60,000 for a family of four. CDOT estimates 53% of households are eligible.

They will be able to apply for toll credits soon through Northeast Transportation Connections, a nonprofit group, which has websites set up in English and Spanish.

No income requirements apply for the free transit passes, which CDOT says will be distributed at seven community sites in the coming months.

CDOT says it will earmark 15% of net toll revenue from the corridor — estimated at $220,000 in the first year — for the equity program. Annual discussions will determine how that money is split between toll credits and transit passes.

“The community will tell us what they want — we won’t do anything without the community input,” Hoover said in an interview.

Get more Colorado news by signing up for our Mile High Roundup email newsletter.

Source: Read Full Article