IDAHO SPRINGS, Colo. — When Jennifer Zwickl makes the trip from Glenwood Springs to Denver, she frequently finds herself frustrated sitting in traffic on Interstate 70.
More often than not, she said, the Colorado Department of Transportation express lane on that stretch of road is closed and not helping with the backup.
"Friday night when I was coming down the mountain in ski traffic going five miles per hour and they’re closed -- I thought that was when it was supposed to be helping us the most," Zwickl said.
She said she's often wondered what would happen if she ignored the "closed" sign and drove in the lane anyway.
It turns out: not much.
Despite the Colorado legislature giving the agency the authority starting in summer 2022 to fine drivers up to $250 for using the lanes while they're closed, CDOT said it hasn't fined a single driver.
The legislature said there were 47,828 instances of vehicles using the lanes while closed in 2020.
CDOT spokesperson Tim Hoover said red tape has slowed down the agency's efforts to develop new technology that can issue citations. The current camera system can detect drivers using the lanes while they're closed -- and even capture their license plates -- but it's only set up to issue tolls, not citations, Hoover said.
"The thing about government is that it has to be transparent and fair, and that slows things down to a degree," he said. "We have made good progress on the system, finishing up administrative and accounting activities that had to be taken care of before we can launch the system."
He said CDOT plans to launch the system this spring. It will also be able to detect drivers weaving in and out of lanes -- a feature Hoover called "state of the art." In the meantime, Hoover urged drivers to respect the closed signs.
"Driving in there when it’s closed is very dangerous. It’s illegal. And there’s a fairness aspect to it too," he said. "[Law-abiding drivers] shouldn’t have to watch scofflaws jump into that lane and speed around traffic and create dangerous situations."
State patrol troopers can still issue tickets for illegal use of the lanes.
CDOT has explained before: it can only open the Mountain Express Lanes for a certain number of days per year, because they're technically not highway lanes.
Instead, Hoover said, they are "peak period shoulder lanes." The federal government said the eastbound lane can only be open 100 days a year, and the westbound lane can only be open 125 days a year.
When the new citation system is ready to come online, Hoover said, "the hammer is going to come down."
CDOT plans to wait a month once it turns on its new system -- which is currently being piloted on the westbound lane -- before issuing citations to drivers who use the lanes while closed, he said.
"Understanding the behavior has gone unchecked for some time, we’re going to have a grace period," Hoover said. "At least the plan right now is the fines will not be set at the highest we can set them."
Instead, he said, the fines will start at $150.
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