The Colorado Dept. of Transportation and the High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) recently reported new data on some of the benefits they say that drivers have gained from operational improvements on the state’s Express Lane corridors.

Since last summer, CDOT opened Express Lanes to provide more reliable travel times on U.S. 36, the I-70 Mountain corridor and North I-25. Express Lanes offer travelers choices such as biking, carpooling, transit and toll-paying options.

I-70 Mountain Lane

The 13-mile eastbound Express Lane on I-70 runs from Empire through Idaho Springs. It opened in mid-December. Before its opening, an analysis by the data research firm INRIX ranked congestion on that stretch of highway as among the worst in the nation. Since the opening, CDOT says that the I-70 Mountain Express Lane has been delivering much-needed capacity in this corridor during peak periods.

Operational improvements in the mountain corridor helped travelers avoid congestion during several record-setting traffic counts in the high country over the Jan. 2 holiday weekend. Also, comparing travel times in the corridor on the Martin Luther King holiday in 2012 (before construction) to 2016, when the Mountain Express Lane was in use, CDOT says that drivers saw the following improvements:

  • On Martin Luther King Holiday 2016 at 4 p.m., travel times were around 17 minutes in all lanes compared to 23 minutes in 2012; reducing
  • travel times by approximately six minutes, or 26%.
  • On Martin Luther King Holiday 2016 after 7:30 p.m., travel times were 14-16 minutes for all lanes, compared to 17-33 minutes in 2012; reducing travel times from three to 17 minutes, as much as 52%.  

U.S. 36 Lanes

CDOT, HPTE and Plenary Roads Denver, the U.S. 36 private-sector project partner, opened the first phase of the multimodal U.S. 36 Express Lanes from Louisville to Federal Boulevard in July.

Also at that time, CDOT introduced the switchable HOV transponder to allow drivers a carpool or toll option in one pass. More than 73,000 transponders have been distributed to date. The switchable transponders give carpoolers the ease of traveling for free or choosing to pay a toll when carpooling is not an option.

Since last summer, CDOT says that carpoolers using the switchable HOV transponders have saved almost $1.3 million in tolls on the U.S. 36 and Central I-25 Express Lanes.  

U.S. 36 users are also seeing improvements as a result of the diverging-diamond interchange in Superior/Louisville, a newly constructed roadway and bridges and improved travel times. Comparing a weekday westbound travel day in September 2011 to 2015, U.S. 36 Express Lanes users experienced more consistent travel times and speeds in all lanes:

  • In 2011 at 7:40 a.m., speeds on U.S. 36 averaged 35 mph.
  • In 2015 at 7:40 a.m., speeds on U.S. 36 averaged 45 mph, 29% faster than in 2011.
  • In 2011 at 6 p.m., speeds on U.S. 36 averaged 50 mph.
  • In 2015 at 6 p.m., speeds on U.S. 36 averaged above 60 mph, 20% faster than 2011.

The final stretch of the U.S. 36 Express Lanes project, from Table Mesa to Superior/Louisville, began toll collection on March 30. The 18-mile bikeway from Boulder to Westminster opened March 1.

North I-25 Lanes

In March, CDOT and HPTE opened the North I-25 Express Lanes for testing from 120th Avenue to the existing central I-25 Express Lanes in Denver, which ends at U.S. 36. Travelers can drive in the toll lanes for free and learn how to use them while toll collection is waived during the testing period.

The Express Lanes offer free HOV/carpooling, transit and toll-paying options for users. Tolling will begin in early summer.

“CDOT knows from experience that we can’t build our way out of congestion,” said Shailen Bhatt, CDOT executive director. “Express Lanes offer Coloradans choices in how they travel and are also delivering improvements in these critical corridors that benefit all lanes and all users.”