DENVER - Carpoolers will have to shell out $35 to avoid daily tolls on the High Occupancy Lanes on Interstate 25 and U.S. 36.
Starting next month, the new toll lane in each direction on U.S. 36 will become active. At the same time, the process of monitoring HOV drivers on I-25 express lanes will change. HOV drivers on I-25 and U.S. 36 will need a new transponder to avoid having their license plates charged a toll.
"If you do want to travel for free as an HOV-user, you need this new switchable transponder," said Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford.
"Why do I suddenly have to pay to be an HOV driver?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.
"You don't have to pay (to be an HOV driver), but you do have to open an ExpressToll account," said Ford.
Since the lanes will be monitored by cameras, HOV drivers will be required to have a device that they can manually switch from "HOV"-mode to "Toll"-mode. When they have two or more people in the car, they can be in "HOV"-mode and avoid being charged the toll. If they want to drive the express lane as a toll lane, they can switch it to "Toll" and have their account charged.
"If you do not have the switchable transponder, you will always be paying a toll if you want to use those lanes, even if you have more people in the car," said Ford.
The device costs $35 -- $15 for the transponder and $20 that will be credited to start your tolling account, should you ever use it.
"You're not supposed to be discouraging people from carpooling, which is what they're doing," said Louisville carpooler Victor Goldberg. "They shouldn't be throwing an artificial roadblock for people trying to do the right thing."
CDOT told 7NEWS that the charge is needed to cover the cost of manufacturing and mailing a more expensive transponder.
"If they're going to charge for it, they should just absorb the charge into what they're charging people for tolls," said Goldberg.
Drivers who already have an ExpressToll sticker and account will not need the new transponder if they want to use the express lanes as toll lanes. Anyone who does not have a sticker or transponder will have their license plate charged a higher toll rate.
Motorcyclists will also need to buy a sticker for their vehicles to avoid being charged a toll.
Also, starting in 2017, the HOV limit will change from two or more people in the vehicle to three or more people. According to CDOT, the change is to incentivize the use of the lane to keep it flowing freely.
"These lanes are about reliability. That's the promise of an express lane, is that you'll always be able to travel at a reliable speed in that lane," Ford said. "What we're also seeing already on the I-25 corridor is the number of HOV users, who are using it for free, are starting to impact that reliability. So, in other words, the lanes aren't always travelling at 45 miles per hour."
Drivers like Goldberg believe it's a sweet deal for the company in charge of maintaining and managing the new U.S. 36 configuration.
"The big construction company that's financing it, they won't make as much money if it's an 'HOV-2,'" said Goldberg.