Tolling the shoulder: Colorado's quick fix for I-70 congestion

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 10/30/2013

It’s being called a temporary fix, but Colorado plans to convert 12 miles of highway shoulder along I-70 into a new, tolled traffic lane between Empire Junction and Idaho Springs. Heavy commercial vehicles won’t be allowed to use the new lane but may benefit from reduced congestion in the general-purpose lanes.

Amy Ford, communications director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, says the tolled shoulder concept is “outside the box” of other, longer-term plans for the congested corridor, including tunnel widening projects and permanent increases to capacity later on.

“In the interim, we are looking at peak-period shoulder lanes as a temporary solution to addressing congestion issues in that corridor,” Ford told Land Line.

“Specifically, what that program is, is the paving out of the shoulders that currently exist in the eastbound direction on I-70,” she said, adding that the lanes will be open only during peak traffic times, typically associated with ski resorts and tourism.

“When it’s not in use, that lane would revert to being a shoulder again,” Ford said.

But will truckers be able to use it once the new lane opens in 2015? That may be a question for upcoming public hearings on the project to be announced and scheduled later this year.

“Likely, they’ll not be allowed on this particular lane, would be my guess,” said Ford. “They would remain in the general purpose lanes only.”

The tolled shoulder will cost $34 million to complete. Ford says the money will come from a program called RAMP, Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnership, which the Colorado Transportation commission recently established.

At the present time, the agency has not set toll rates or determined a method of toll collection.

CDOT believes the investment will be worth it, even if the toll lane is temporary. The agency says the average speed on Sundays in the corridor can be as slow as 20 mph.

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