CDOT finalizing details for westbound mountain Express Lane

IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Another round of construction is coming to the Interstate 70 mountain corridor and it could mean a quicker drive time for those heading to the high country.

“We’re trying to finalize the design of the westbound peak period shoulder lane,” Colorado Department of Transportation engineer Stephen Harelson said at a public meeting Thursday for the project.

The lane will be a mirror image of the Express Lane on the eastbound side stretching from Empire to Floyd Hill. That area is notorious for bottleneck backups that can add hours to the drive time.

“When this interstate was built there were like 2 million people in Colorado,” he said.

Now about 12 million vehicles travel the corridor annually.

“The westbound, especially at the top of Floyd Hill, is a disaster,” longtime resident Gail Gilszmer said.

The westbound peak period shoulder lane will open for use during weekends and holidays when traffic is bumper to bumper.

It will charge drivers a toll based on the amount of traffic at the time. It can be as much as $30 but typically stays about $10.

“On average, it would decrease the commute on a Sunday afternoon by about 21 minutes,” Harelson said of the eastbound lane that already exists.

Before drivers will see eased congestion, there will be an 18-month construction period that could cause more congestion.

CDOT expects to begin in the spring and anticipates the lane will be available for use in time for the ski season in 2020-2021.

Harelson said CDOT expects the project to go more smoothly than the eastbound project because it already knows which kinks it has to work out.

“We’ve learned a few lessons from the eastbound. One of our biggest complaints is that the shy distance from that barrier in the toll lane is only about a foot. We’ve increased that to two feet so it’ll be a little more of a comfortable drive,” Harelson said.

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