DENVER - A bill to make HOV lanes easier to use could ultimately make them disappear.
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, is sponsoring a bill that would revert the HOV rules to the way they used to be.
Last year, the Colorado Department of Transportation changed the way HOV drivers can use the toll lanes on Interstate 25 and Highway 36 to and from Boulder. Prior to this year, commuters with two or more people in their vehicle could simply drive onto the I-25 toll lanes as an HOV user and not be charged as long as they were in the correct lane. Before the toll lanes on Highway 36 opened, they were strictly HOV lanes on the honor system.
Now that the toll lane is active on Highway 36, drivers need a switchable transponder to use the lanes as HOV drivers.
"I'm sure that we're catching people again and again and again with little 'gotchas' on this. Let's make HOV lanes that were designed to be used for free, free," said Lundberg. "They've put his extra step in that makes it next to impossible for most people to use HOV lanes. I thought they were there to be used, so let's make it available and open as much as possible."
Anyone who uses the HOV/Toll lane will have their vehicle scanned in some fashion. The detectors will either scan the switchable transponder, not charging the vehicle if it is set to 'HOV' or charging a lower toll amount if it is set to 'Toll,' or the driver's license plate will be scanned and a more expensive toll will be charged.
The switchable device costs $35, $15 for the device itself and $20 to be deposited into a toll account in case the driver uses the lane for tolls, since the account has to have a balance in it to be utilized.
"Can I get one of those devices for free?" Denver7 political reporter Marshall Zelinger asked CDOT.
"You may not get one of those devices for free at this point in time," said CDOT Spokeswoman Amy Ford.
"Is it possible to have these HOV lanes without the device?" asked Zelinger.
"No, it's not. If you have a device or if you don't have a device, our cameras are going to pick you up and they are going to immediately assume that you are a license plate toll user, if you do not have a device that says you are HOV," said Ford.
She also said that if this bill were to pass as written, CDOT would have to reconsider offering HOV lanes at all.
"If this goes through and no one has to declare that they have HOV using a transponder, we need to very seriously look at whether or not HOV is even viable on that lane," said Ford. "It could cause significant issues in regards to just overall revenue collection, as more and more people use the lane and say, 'Trust me, I'm HOV.'"
Lundberg said his concern isn't just for drivers who use the lanes daily, but those who come here on vacation and don't know the HOV lane rules.
"An HOV lane should be free. I believe it should be free to people who are here, as well as somebody who comes in from out of town," said Lundberg. "All I'm saying is let's go back to the system that was in place of June of last year."
The bill will be heard in its first committee on Thursday at 1:30 p.m.