BROOMFIELD, Colo. -- Denver7 has reported numerous times that the Colorado Department of Transportation is changing the express lanes from HOV 2+ to HOV 3+, but what are the real reasons?
In a news release earlier this week, CDOT wrote:
"The move to HOV 3+ helps provide uncongested travel now and in the future on the Express Lanes as well as providing funding to help offset costs of the lane including operations and maintenance."
"How many times has the HOV lane not been up to speed?" asked Denver7 reporter Marshall Zelinger.
"We have contractual obligations with RTD to make sure that their buses can travel at a certain speed. And also, if you pay to be in that lane, you want to get what you pay for. Even if you're a carpooler, you want to get what you pay for," said CDOT Express Lane spokeswoman Megan Castle. "Traffic is increasing here. I don't know if we've actually hit or crossed that line."
Denver7 asked an RTD spokesman if the transit operation has ever notified CDOT that its buses are running behind schedule due to express lane congestion.
"We have on-going communication with CDOT so they are aware of schedule concerns and they also track congestion in the Express Lanes that can impact our service."
It's even in the contract with Plenary Roads Denver, the company that runs and maintains U.S. 36 and the express lanes on the Boulder Turnpike and the express lanes on I-25 from downtown Denver to U.S. 36.
There were five scenarios for the HOV to change from two to three.
- Transit delays exceed two per week during rush hour in three consecutive weeks.
- Rush hour speed drops to less than 45 miles per hour for 15 minutes at least one day in four out of six consecutive weeks.
- Rush hour speed drops to less than 50 miles per hour one day for four consecutive weeks.
- Hourly volume of HOV 2+ vehicles exceeds 1,000 on three days in four out of six consecutive weeks.
- A predetermined date.
"Why 2017? Why couldn't this be put off until we're closer to the HOV lane being more clogged than it is?" asked Zelinger.
"This decision was made in February of 2013, so nearly four years ago, the decision was made," said Castle. "The other part that's always been a part of this plan is the financial aspect. The financial planning has always included the switch to HOV 3+, so we have more cars that are paying to be in that lane. We're looking at short term and long term trip reliability."
CDOT has been working on alternative ways to pay for roads, since the state gas tax has been at 22 cents per gallon since 1993. CDOT maintains that it only has enough money each year to maintain the roads we have, not additional roads.
"As construction costs go up, more and more people are moving to Colorado, those dollars don't go as far," said Castle.
Plenary Roads Denver keeps the toll revenue on U.S. 36 and a portion of I-25's toll road, but CDOT controls the newest toll lanes.
"The north I-25 express lane from U.S. 36 to 120th (Avenue), and then the next segment that's under construction, CDOT collects that toll and is responsible for the toll and is responsible for the operations and the maintenance."
For those of you thinking you can still keep your transponder on HOV, even with two people in the car, we found out how state troopers will catch you.
When your transponder is set to HOV, it causes a blue light to illuminate when you drive past a scanner. On U.S. 36, the median near those scanners is wide enough and protected by barriers for a state trooper to park and watch traffic. If the light turns blue, the trooper can look at the number of people in the vehicle and determine if a traffic stop is needed.
"We have seen 188 HOV violations from January 1 to October 31, along the U.S. 36 express lanes," said Castle.
The ticket is $250. If everyone ticketed so far has paid, that equals $47,000.
Data collected by CDOT shows that between one-in-four and one-in-five drivers use the express lane as an HOV lane. CDOT anticipates half of those drivers will stop using the lanes once they become HOV 3+. That could impact the bottom line, if drivers are choosing to use the free lanes, even when congested.
"We need cars in that lane that are paying in order to help pay for the infrastructure," said Castle.