CDOT express lane enforcement starts on I-70 mountain corridor

Drivers who weave in and out of the Interstate 70 mountain express lanes or use them when they’re closed soon will receive the first $75 fines as the state begins using cameras to target unsafe driving in its expanding toll-lane network.

The Colorado Department of Transportation on Wednesday will switch on a new automated enforcement system that will use cameras and sensors to catch violations in the westbound I-70 mountain express lane between the Veterans Memorial Tunnels and Empire. It plans to expand the system to the eastbound I-70 toll lane and other express-lane corridors — including several in metro Denver — later, though no firm schedule has been announced.

Drivers caught violating the rules on the westbound shoulder express lane will receive a warning in the mail during an initial 30-day grace period.

Starting July 21, they’ll be assessed fines that begin at $75 for a first offense, with the fine increasing to $150 if it’s not paid within 20 days.

The violations targeted include using the express lane when it’s closed, crossing the solid yellow line between toll points when it’s open and driving an oversized vehicle in the lane, CDOT says.

CDOT added the narrower express lanes on I-70’s inside shoulders in the 13-mile corridor under a special arrangement with federal regulators, with the eastbound lane opening in 2015 and the westbound side following last year. They’re typically open only on weekends and holidays, since the arrangement still requires the lanes to be used as shoulders most of the time. Semitrailers and other vehicles with more than two axles or that are more than 25 feet long aren’t allowed in the express lanes.

“This technology is a game-changer,” CDOT spokesman Tim Hoover said in a news release. “It will not only help us identify and penalize drivers who are endangering themselves and others, we truly believe it will help save lives and make our roads safer for everyone.”

State lawmakers last year gave CDOT’s Colorado Transportation Investment Office, an enterprise arm that oversees its express lanes, more authority to crack down on violations in the I-70 mountain corridor. The bill, HB22-1074, allows fines up to $250 for repeat violations.

Since then, CDOT leaders have expanded the safety enforcement program’s scope to other corridors, where drivers bobbing in and out of express lanes — essentially using them as a passing lane — has become a frequent occurrence.

On the mountain corridor, CDOT has installed a system of sensors and cameras to identify violators that it says is the first of its kind in the nation for a highway enforcement program. It will work similarly to the license-plate tolling system, which can bill vehicle owners who lack a tolling transponder.

CDOT’s news release says it’s important to keep the I-70 mountain lanes clear when they’re serving as shoulders so that they can be used by emergency vehicles or to move broken-down vehicles out of traffic. A legislative analysis last year reported that in 2020, tolling equipment detected 47,828 vehicles in the eastbound express lane during times it was closed.

The stepped-up enforcement comes as CTIO prepares to begin tolling this summer on new I-70 express lanes in northeast Denver and later this year on Interstate 25 south of Castle Rock; both corridors are still in free testing periods.

CDOT’s other express-lane corridors don’t have as many restrictions as the I-70 mountain lanes and are open 24 hours a day, making it likely that the automated system will target weaving by drivers and other unsafe behavior.

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