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Colorado Democrats making late-night TV-like pitch for toll lane discounts

State Rep. Alex Valdez (D-Denver) is sponsoring a bill that would give electric vehicle owners in Colorado free HOV access and half-off express lane tolls.

DENVER — In the legislative version of the "ShamWow," Democratic lawmakers in Colorado are offering a late-night television-type deal.

Free use of high occupancy vehicle lanes!

Discounted express lane tolls!

For one easy payment…of owning an electric vehicle.

Rep. Alex Valdez (D-Denver) is sponsoring a bill that would give electric vehicle owners free HOV access and half-off express lane tolls.

"To incentivize people to use cars that don't pollute, and to help people that do, to know that they don't have to have that dreaded range anxiety," said Valdez. "Picture the scenario where you're coming back from the mountains on Sunday, in the usual Sunday traffic jam, and you need to get through because your car is going to die. That was part of our thinking."

There's no discount for those of you stuck in I-70 mountain traffic worried that your fuel may run out.

"In the past, government has had to assist things that were good for the people to become a reality," said Valdez.

The proposal would require electric vehicle owners to pay a $35 registration fee. They would then get 50 percent of express lane tolls. The I-70 mountain express lane can cost $40 for a driver who uses the entire 13-mile stretch and gets charged through the use of their license plate instead of a switchable pass. Electric vehicle drivers would also get free use of HOV lanes, even if they're alone.

"One of the reasons that we want to get vehicles off the road is to reduce emissions, so if you have a car that doesn't have emissions with a single occupant, it's helping to meet that goal of lowering emissions, which is part of the reason we have HOV lanes," said Valdez.

"We want to put more people on the road, in fewer cars, and that's where our HOV program comes in. This electric vehicle policy is all about trying to electrify more vehicles and reduce carbon emissions, so I don't think the two are mutually exclusive," said David Spector, Colorado Department of Transportation's Director of the High-Performance Transportation Enterprise, basically the director of the state's express lanes. "In order to incentivize widespread adoption of electric vehicles, this provides an incentive."

Based on the legislation, 10,000 vehicles would be eligible starting in July 2020. Beyond July 2024, no more than 120,000 vehicles could benefit.

According to Spector, the $35 fee paid up front would offset the discount the electric vehicles would be receiving.

"We hear the pushback that electric vehicles get a lot of benefits that other vehicles don't," said Valdez, who owns an electric vehicle. "If somebody has an electric vehicle or plug-in vehicle, every year they pay a fee. They get a little green sticker that goes on their windshield, saying they paid their portion of the gas tax. Currently, that fee is $50 a year."

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That fee is tied for the least in the nation of the 20 states that charge a fee for driving an electric vehicle.

Valdez said he wouldn't benefit from this legislation himself, since his commute is between the Capitol and his home just west of downtown.

"I won't because there are no lanes that I would use between here and my house," said Valdez. "I probably won't benefit personally, but I would be happy to help other people. This is mostly targeted to the northwest corridor, the southern corridor, people that are coming from the Springs and, of course, people that are commuting from the mountains on the weekends."

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