Chain law debated in Denver
DENVER – The State House Transportation and Energy Committee delayed a vote on a bill that would stiffen up the state’s chain law after hearing two hours of testimony on Thursday morning.The bill, proposed by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, would increase the fine for violations of the existing chain law for commercial vehicles from $100 and no points to $500. That fine would stay at $500 if a truck driver’s failure to comply with the law resulted in a blocked lane of traffic, but four points would also be added to the operator’s CDL.Gibbs is hoping that his bill will increase compliance with the law, therefore reducing the frequency of stalled traffic and closures on Interstate 70.”This bill is not a fix for I-70 by all means; this is just a small fraction of the big picture in many ways,” Gibbs told his colleagues on Thursday.An assembly from Colorado’s mountain communities, including a group of 10 folks from Summit County, gathered at the Capitol to voice their support for the bill, while truck drivers and union representatives spoke against potential increased fines and penalties.Several bill supporters described the scene on I-70 early Thursday morning as they drove to Denver while the chain law was in effect to prove their point.Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson said he left Silverthorne at 8 a.m. and noticed that the chain-up area near the exit was empty.”Four miles up the road a state plow is pushing a tractor trailer rig that doesn’t have chains on up to the tunnel,” Davidson said. “The citizens of Summit County have seen incidents like this time and time and time again, and the citizens of my county have said, ‘Why can’t we do something?'”Bill Jensen, co-president of Vail Resorts’ mountain division, spoke on behalf of Colorado Ski Country USA about the economic impact that results when visitors can’t reach the state’s ski resorts because the highway is closed.In the 2005-2006 ski season, the ski industry contributed $2.6 billion to the state’s economy, 60 percent of which filtered into restaurants, grocery stores, hotels and gas stations in resort communities, Jensen said.Using numbers provided by CDOT Region 1 director Jeff Kullman (CDOT has not taken a stance on the bill) earlier in the morning, Jensen said that last winter, I-70 was closed a total of 119 hours due to truck spinouts, at an economic impact of $800,000 each hour.On Dec. 28 alone, the interstate was closed for six hours, he said.”If you use the $800,000, that’s almost $5 million of economic impact,” Jensen said.Mayors from both Frisco and Silverthorne, the director of the I-70 coalition, representatives from Clear Creek County and the Town of Empire and police chiefs from Vail and Silverthorne all spoke in favor of the bill.On the other side of the issue, truck drivers say there aren’t enough chain-up areas on the interstate, and the areas that are designated are often too far from where the chains are actually needed.”I get phone calls constantly saying, ‘Your trucks are slowing down the traffic going up to the tunnel because your driver has chains on and there’s no snow on the road,” said Tom Lee of Mile-Hi Frozen Foods, which regularly delivers to the High Country.Also, hazardous materials trucks are required to be at least five feet from traffic when they pull over and that’s often not possible with the existing chain-up areas located on the side of the highway, Lee said.Other drivers say truckers are catching the brunt of the blame for a problem that isn’t always their fault.Terrence Mroz, who drives for Armstrong Relocation, said he sees passenger vehicles spinning out and sliding off the road as well, most recently when he was driving home after the brutal storms in December on the Eastern plains.”I counted 19 vehicles off the road, one of them was a CDOT plow, none of them was a commercial tractor-trailer. They were all private vehicles,” Mroz said.CDOT’s Kullman said the department is aware of some of the spatial issues along the interstate for chaining up, and is working to address those deficiencies.CDOT is also addressing safety concerns at chain-up areas, which is an issue at the forefront of many drivers’ minds in light of last month’s death of a Wal-Mart driver who was killed as he removed the chains from his truck at a designated area in Georgetown. Kullman said CDOT is looking to reduce the speeds past chain-up areas and putting up more signs to alert drivers that they’re near a chain-up zone. The committee will revisit the bill to hear amendments and to vote on Tuesday.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-4629, or at email@example.com.
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