Boulder County Sees Chilly Reception for Switch to HOV 3 on U.S. 36

By Alex Burness, The Daily Camera
December 17, 2016

Starting New Year’s Day, the express lanes of U.S. 36 will require cars to carry three passengers — up from the current two — to qualify as high-occupancy vehicles and enjoy the toll lane for free.

But the switch from HOV 2 to HOV 3, which also applies to express lanes on Interstate 25, is not a response to any particular problem on the highway.

It’s been almost 18 months since toll lanes opened as part of a nearly $500 million expansion project on U.S. 36 between Boulder and Denver, and, by several key measures, the ride’s been a smooth one for all modes involved.

Across all lanes, speeds are up about 30 percent during morning rush hour and 20 percent during the evening rush.

RTD’s new Flatiron Flyer bus fleet is meeting its average required speeds: 55 mph from Boulder to Broomfield and 50 mph from Broomfield to Denver

And the HOV 2 threshold hasn’t resulted in any kind of imbalance that would threaten the purpose of the toll lane — a faster ride for buses, carpools and paying customers, and less congested main lanes. On U.S. 36 and I-25, the Colorado Department of Transportation reports, HOV cars make up about a quarter of all toll-lane vehicles.

In fact, the change from HOV 2 to HOV 3 is being made mainly in the name of revenue.

The state transportation department accomplished the U.S. 36 expansion through a first-of-its-kind (in Colorado, anyway) public-private partnership with the infrastructure investment company Plenary Group.

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