First Winter Season Proves I-70 Mountain Express Lane Benefits All Lanes

May 5, 2016 - Denver Metro Colorado/CDOT Region 1 - Express Lane Reduces Congestion, Improves Travel Times and Makes Travel Safer

DENVER – Since last summer, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and the High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) opened Express Lanes on the I-70 Mountain Corridor, US 36 and on North I-25. Express Lanes can deliver more consistent, faster speeds and reduced travel times for all lanes, including general purpose lanes, along their corridor. The I-70 Mountain Express Lane's first winter season of operations delivered benefits to all eastbound travelers, across all lanes.

"Population numbers in Colorado are rising rapidly," said David Spector, HPTE Director. "We can no longer build our way out of congestion, we have to implement innovative solutions — like Express Lanes. During this winter season, all users of the corridor noticed the benefits of the Express Lane. Not only did they see reduced travel times, but fewer incidents as well."  

All the new Express Lanes are showing improvement in traffic congestion, and mountain drivers are getting relief since the I-70 Mountain Express Lane opened mid-December 2015. The 13-mile eastbound Express Lane runs from Empire through Idaho Springs, and is open during high traffic volume times, such as holidays and weekends.

"The Express Lane provides much-needed capacity and reduced travel times for all users of this critical mountain corridor. Colorado Mountain Express utilizes the I-70 Mountain Express Lane to safely and efficiently provide our guests with more reliable travel times during peak travel days," said John Dawsey, Vice President & General Manager of Colorado Mountain Express. "Our drivers reported that all eastbound I-70 travelers benefited this year. For example, on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, CDOT confirms that travel times for all lanes were reduced up to 52 percent from the same day in 2012 (pre-construction)."

On April 3, 2016, 34,136 vehicles traveled the corridor during the 11 hours the Express Lane was open, averaging 3,103 vehicles per hour (VPH). Prior to the Express Lane, the corridor would have dropped to stop and go traffic at 3,100 VPH. This year, during the peak hour, from 3–4 p.m., travel speeds were just below 55 mph in the Express Lane and 40 mph in the general purpose lanes, which shows a significant improvement in travel times for all lanes. On that same weekend, there were no incidents in the Express Lane.  

"The I-70 Coalition works to increase mobility in the mountain corridor and the I-70 Mountain Express Lane is providing results," said Margaret Bowes, I-70 Coalition Director. "With the Express Lane this year, the corridor had normal travel times with traffic volumes that would've collapsed the corridor with speeds of 5-10 mph in previous years. People can spend less time travelling and more time at their destinations."

Summary of I-70 Mountain Express Lane's First Winter Season:

  • Capacity:

    • Winter season throughput increased by 15 percent

    • Corridor had 1.03 million vehicles compared to 2010-2012 average of  896,000 vehicles; Express Lane captured 42,600 vehicles or 4 percent

    • Peak day throughput increased by 5,800 vehicles

  • Travel Speeds:

    • Peak hour travel speeds stayed above 45 mph in the Express Lane and above 35 mph in the General Purpose (GP) lanes throughout the season

    • During peak periods, the GP Lanes travel times improved by 18 percent and vehicles in the Express Lane were able to travel at the speed limit

    • Alleviated congestion on Frontage Road

  • Travel Times:

    • Express Lane Peak Hour Season Average: 12.0 minutes (60 mph)

      • Slowest: 15.2 minutes (47 mph) on Sunday, Jan. 31; GP lanes 17.5 minutes (41 mph)  

      • Fastest: 11.3 minutes (64 mph) on April 9, after Spring Break; GP lanes 11.6 minutes (62 mph)  

    • Peak Hour Season Average: 13.6 minutes (53 mph)  

      • Slowest: 17.5 minutes (41 mph) on Jan. 31  

      • Fastest: 11.6 minutes (62 mph) on April 9  

    • 2013-2015 Peak Hour Season Average: 16.5 minutes (44 mph); Slowest: 44.2 minutes (16 mph); and Fastest: 11.6 minutes (62 mph)

  • Safety and Incidents:

    • Corridor incidents were down 15 percent with 23 total incidents:

      • 4 in Express Lane; 2 straddled Express Lane and GP lanes; and 17 in GP lanes

      • 2013-2015: Average of 27 incidents between Jan. 1 - April 10

    • Averaged 22 minutes between an incident reported and cleared

    • Time to clear corridor back-ups substantially improved

  • Toll Rates:

    • Typical toll rates of $4 to $6 were tested during this initial winter season

    • A maximum toll rate of $8 was reached

  • Days of Operations:

    • Express Lane opened 32 days; 44 percent of 73 days allowed

  • Reduced Travel Times:

    • Comparing Martin Luther King Holiday 2012 to 2016 for all lanes between Empire and Idaho Springs:

      • At 4 p.m.: Around 23 minutes in 2012; and around 17 minutes in 2016. The Express Lane reduced travel times by 26 percent

      • At 7:30 p.m.: Around 17 to 33 minutes in 2012; and, around 14-16 minutes in 2016. The Express Lane reduced travel times by as much as 52 percent.

"The I-70 Mountain Express Lane's first winter season helped to relieve traffic congestion in the corridor and for our mountain communities" said Clear Creek County Commissioner Tim Mauck. "Traffic flowed well on the highway and on our frontage roads. Additionally, we had a reduced number of incidents compared to previous years and we look forward to continuing to work with CDOT to improve mobility throughout the corridor."

The I-70 Mountain Express Lane is only open weekends and holidays for a total of 73 days per year. When the Express Lane is not open, roadway signage indicates it is not closed and is used as a shoulder for emergency purposes.

CDOT reminds drivers that the I-70 Mountain Express Lane is only open for peak periods. The Express Lane is expected to be closed on weekends until Memorial Day, when the summer traffic resumes. Historically, the summer season has more traffic and for longer hours of the day than the winter season. Also, summer traffic has more trailers and recreational vehicles in the corridor, which are not permitted in the Express Lane.

Learn more about Express Lanes at and more on the High Performance Transportation Enterprise (HPTE) at