CDOT pledges $1.2 million to improve chain-up areas
DENVER The Colorado Department of Transportation earmarked an unprecedented chunk of money for improving tractor-trailer truck chain-up areas on Colorado’s highways on Monday. The state’s transportation agency set aside $1.2 million for safety projects during an hour-and-a-half meeting organized by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, whose bill to raise fines and penalties for truck drivers who don’t abide by the chain law stalled last week in the state House.It’s the most money CDOT has ever allotted to tackle the issue, Gibbs said.”I feel very positive about this,” Gibbs said. “This is not a slam dunk yet, but I am very persistent and I know this is very important to the mountain communities, and I’m just working extra hard to keep this bill alive.”CDOT will use the money to address issues raised by truck drivers during recent debate over Gibbs’ House Bill 1229, including a lack of space along I-70 to accommodate all the big rigs that need to chain up during a snowstorm and safety concerns at existing chain locations.Jeff Kullman, region 1 director for CDOT, said CDOT has been improving chain stations in a piecemeal way for the last five or six years, but the visibility of some of the concerns has intensified as a result of Gibbs’ bill and CDOT wanted to respond.”There’s no question that the heat, if you will, has been turned up and CDOT is being asked to step up to the plate and take some more responsibility,” Kullman said.CDOT officials worked over the weekend to reshuffle money in its safety fund and its congestive management fund in order to commit the $1.2 million at Monday’s meeting, Kullman said.A portion of that money will be used to install electronic signs to reduce the speed limit in advance of designated chain areas in an effort to make other drivers aware that they will be approaching roadside activity and need to take extra safety precautions.”For example, if it’s 60 miles per hour, we might drop it to 50 in those areas,” Kullman said.Funds will also be dedicated toward installing new signs along the I-70 corridor with lights that flash when the chain law is in effect so truck drivers have plenty of notice that they’ll need chains down the road.Right now, CDOT utilizes its electronic message boards as far west as the Utah border and as far east as the Denver metro area to warn drivers about the chain law.But, one truck driver who testified against Gibbs’ bill said he’d been ticketed for driving without chains before he’d seen any notification that the law was in effect.The new signs will provide warning every three to five miles on the corridor to clear up any confusion among drivers, Kullman said.Lastly, the money will help expand existing chain areas and potentially create new ones in Summit and Clear Creek counties, Kullman said.Most of the focus will be in the westbound lanes of I-70, which has only one chain area to every three in the eastbound direction, he said.Kullman declined to pinpoint where potential new chain stations could be located in Summit County until he discusses the ideas with local officials, which will occur in the next week. Any new locations would remain within CDOT’s rights-of-way, he said.The projects will all be completed over the summer in time for the next snow season.CDOT will continue to discuss more costly, complex improvements in the future, such as erecting barriers at existing chain-up areas and installing lighting, he said.Kullman said that although CDOT has not specifically taken a stance on Gibbs’ bill, “anything that helps the safety and mobility of this corridor is clearly something CDOT would like to see happen.”The House Transportation and Energy Committee, of which Gibbs is vice chair, failed to move the bill forward to the House floor last Tuesday, but didn’t kill it either, giving Gibbs a chance to bring back the bill a second time.Gibbs had proposed to increase the fine for violating the chain law from $100 to $500 and tack on 4 points to the license of a truck driver who neglects to chain up and results in blocked lanes on the highway.The freshman lawmaker is hoping CDOT’s financial pledge will help push the bill along when he reintroduces it, but acknowledged there is more work to do.He’s scheduled a second, smaller meeting on Thursday to meet with decision makers from CDOT and the Motor Carriers Association. He also plans to pen a letter to Gov. Ritter asking that more Colorado State Patrol troopers be assigned to the understaffed Troop 6B, which covers Summit and Clear Creek counties, in an attempt to make headway on enforcement concerns.Truck drivers have questioned bumping up the chain law penalty when, they say, the existing law isn’t regularly enforced.But Gibbs said CSP issued more than 300 citations last year for noncompliance with the chain law. Gibbs also believes that if his bill is passed, drivers will self-regulate for fear of a higher fine and a points penalty.Monday’s meeting involved about 25 key stakeholders, including representatives from CDOT, Colorado State Patrol, the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, as well as Silverthorne Police Chief Joe Russell and Frisco town manager and I-70 Coalition director Michael Penny. Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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