HOV3: When and why two-occupant cars will have to pay to use I-25, US 36 express lanes

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For years, a driver with a single companion could use high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on Interstate 25 without having to pay for the privilege. It was the Colorado Department of Transportation's way of thanking them for pairing up rather than taking separate cars.

But those days are ending. A few years from now, it'll take three people, not two, for a free ride in the HOV lanes on I-25, as well as Highway 36 to Boulder, and CDOT is already in education mode to inform possibly unhappy folks about this impending change.

Just last month, CDOT hiked the toll rates during peak morning hours for the I-25 express lanes. Here are the updated fees:

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Of course, to get out of paying, just invite a friend to travel with you when traversing these lanes, at least for now. But as of January 2017, those lanes will be transformed from so-called HOV2 to HOV3 -- meaning that a driver must have two or more passengers with him or else he'll have to pay the same amount as if he was alone.

The same will be true of the express lanes on U.S. 36. Phase I of the project is due for completion by the end of 2014, while Phase II is expected to be finished in late 2015 -- and in the beginning, cars with two folks inside will be able to try them out gratis. But when 2017 dawns, so will the HOV3 requirement.

The second phase of the U.S. 36 project represents something of an experiment for the Colorado Department of Transportation. As CDOT director of communication Amy Ford notes, "it's being constructed by CDOT's first public-private concessionaire" -- Plenary Roads Denver, a team of organizations including construction firms Ames Construction and Granite Construction, engineering designer HDR, maintenance outfit Transfield Services and financial adviser Goldman Sachs.

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Plenary "will be paying for about two-thirds of the cost" for Phase II, Ford continues. "They're basically bringing private equity into the project" in exchange for "the tolls on all of U.S. 36 and on existing express lanes on I-25 for fifty years."

That may sound like an excessive pay-out to Plenary, but Ford sees it as a practical way to speed up the process in a big way. "We would not have been able to construct the next phase for probably twenty years" without the private partnership, she estimates. And the deal is already getting national attention, as witnessed by a New York Times piece published last month.

How does the switch from HOV2 to HOV3 fit into this strategy?

Continue for more about the changes in express lanes on I-25 and U.S. 36.


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15 comments
Evelyn Maria
Evelyn Maria

Not good for traffic flow nor pollution, not well thought out!

Ozzie Perch
Ozzie Perch

we should have another lane or two with no traffic allowed at all, ever.(except) in that way the cone zone times will be a lot less impact when it comes to the elusive maintenance effort.

Josh Bradley
Josh Bradley

It's a bad idea to have any private equity in a public transportation project because then it turns in to a for-profit project rather than "do what's best". ""We would not have been able to construct the next phase for probably twenty years" without the private partnership, she estimates." So that means you didn't plan ahead and/or did not spend money wisely. It's not like the traffic on that road increased dramatically overnight. Are they building it to meet capacity needs 20 years from now? I doubt it...prepare for the same debacle in a few decades. I also laughed when I read that they hinted at people picking up strangers on the highway just to use the HOV3 lane. I predict a lot of people standing around calling in late to work. "Uh, yeah, I'm gonna be late because nobody wanted to pick up a hitchhiker."

Josh Bradley
Josh Bradley

So let me get this straight. They're widening 36 to help reduce traffic congestion but at the same time they're going to force more traffic in to general traffic? Brilliant! Must be a monetary reason for it because it flies in the face of any realistic logic. Oh wait, Ben already pointed it out (along with the other companies...nobody loans money for free). Thankfully I rarely ever use that road. Or I25. At least for now.

Jack Quinn
Jack Quinn

I don't think the HOV lanes are over-crowded so why push people back onto the regular highway?

Ben Barr
Ben Barr

"Financial Advisor, Goldman Sachs" well there's your problem...

artshaman85
artshaman85

"Financial Adviser, Goldman Sachs" well there's your problem...

Nick Browning
Nick Browning

I don't get it, nobody uses it anyway, what makes them think bumping it to 3 is a good idea?

DonkeyHotay
DonkeyHotay topcommenter

So everyone's tax $$ goes to pay for and build the roads, then the bastards want to charge the taxpayers more $$ to use what they already paid for?

If you want to see HOV use increase dramatically, and drivers willing to pay higher tolls, then INCREASE THE SPEED LIMIT -- German Autobahn Style -- on those special dedicated roadways.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Schittphaiç Magü Funny post. Thanks for sharing it, Magu.

michael.roberts
michael.roberts moderator editortopcommenter

@Nick Browning You raise a good question, Nick. Thanks.

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