I-70's Mountain Express lane opens this Saturday

Posted at 11:54 PM, Dec 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-10 01:54:08-05

A new plan goes into effect aimed at easing that dreaded ski traffic along I-70, and it's taking place this Saturday: A new toll lane is taking over the shoulder driving east -- from Empire to the twin tunnels.

In Idaho Springs, there is guarded optimism about whether it will work and what kind of impact it will all have on local businesses. 

Traditionally, gridlock out on I-70 helped businesses here because drivers who were tired of sitting in their cars would hop into town to stretch and get a bite to eat.        

But after three years of construction, this town is over it. There's even a sense that a more free-flowing I-70 could be just as good for business.

“We cross our fingers and hope it helps,” said Dan Ebert, general manager of The Buffalo and Westbound and Down Brewing Company.

There’s an overwhelming sense of relief in Idaho Springs – a community fatigued and beat-up from years of highway construction.

“They took a big hit downtown last year,” said Mayor Mike Hillman. Hillman owns a restaurant of his own in Idaho Springs called the Wildfire. “The good thing is – is that traffic will be flowing. We won’t have the construction that we did last year at this time. That also kept people away because it was so congested.”

Hillman also points out one of the main exits, the bridge at Exit 240, was shut down for about a year even though it was scheduled to be complete in 3-4 months.

“Trying to live in this county and work in this county has been a challenge for the last three years,” said Ebert.

But alas, I-70 is now, almost, cone free -- and the Peak Period Shoulder Tolls are ready.

Still, there is some anxiety.

“CDOT generates a problem that creates 1,000 days of back-ups to alleviate 70 days of back-ups a year,” said Ebert. “The math doesn’t work for me. But then again, I just run a restaurant.”

“We want this thing to work,” said Hillman.

A county that -- through no fault of its own -- started to develop a reputation as a perpetual cone zone. It’s now ready to shed that image and toast a new one.

“I’m curious to see, two months from now, what everyone is saying about this,” said Ebert.

“Idaho Springs, Georgetown, Empire – we’re all open for business,” said Hillman. “So, don’t hesitate. Come on up and visit us.”

If there's a lot of snow falling, CDOT has said the toll lane will not open. Snow is in the forecast this Saturday.          

Also, there are still some real safety concerns about the toll lanes because they essentially eliminate the shoulder for emergency vehicles. No one is quite sure how it will impact first responders in the event of an accident. 

Costs will range from $3 to $30 depending on volume. 


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