Proposed chain laws will help, but more enforcement is needed
The attempt by Representative Dan Gibbs to improve public safety on the I-70 corridor from Vail to the Eisenhower Tunnel is worthy of praise. Increasing the penalties for semi-trucks that impede traffic flow by ignoring chain laws may diminish the incidence of road closures due to spinning trucks across all of the lanes at the 186 Mile Marker eastbound on the steep grade above Vail. New legislation may be unnecessary, however, since I have observed that anytime a highway patrol officer is parked with lights flashing from Vail to the 183 Mile Marker at the existing chain-up areas, commercial vehicles miraculously acquire the clinking sound of metal links hitting pavement.If action is going to be taken to improve the safety of commercial truck traffic, then two other kinds of unsafe vehicular traffic over Vail Pass and the Continental Divide should not be ignored.First, passenger vehicle operators who ascend into mountainous terrain during snowstorms should also be inspected for adequate tread depth and reasonable speed of travel during icy and snow-packed conditions. Every passenger vehicle that blocks traffic lanes or slides off the curves around the 186 Mile Marker westbound or the 191 to 198 Mile Markers eastbound from the top of Vail Pass to the base of Officers Gulch should also be cited with a fine and points against the operator.Second, increasing the penalties against unsafe commercial semi-truck vehicles is unequal and unfair treatment as long as the State of Colorado operates unsafe snowplow trucks from Vail to the Eisenhower Tunnel. Although commercial vehicles are required to don chains when a Code 18 goes into effect, no such rule applies to snowplow trucks on the freeway and small, single-axle snowplow trucks spin on the grades above Vail. Furthermore, the trucks operated by CDOT are excluded from federal safety regulations. During the past month, an old single-axle snowplow rolled over at the 186 Mile Marker westbound on the freeway. While there are usually several contributing factors involved in such incidents, the plow has been reported by drivers in the past for lack of a jake brake, inadequate retarder and dangerously rapid loss of air pressure in the remaining brake system. Numerous incidents involving mechanical failures or deficiencies occur throughout the winter involving CDOT equipment, sometimes delaying traffic flow and endangering public safety.The inadequacy of CDOT equipment for the mountain passes helps extend Code 18 conditions for many hours each snowstorm. A single-axle truck carries half as much sand and salt as a tandem. A single-axle truck may empty its load of abrasives before ever reaching the steep upward grade at the 186 Mile Marker eastbound and must climb another four miles to replenish sand at the top of Vail Pass. A single-axle truck is powerful enough to climb out of Vail at 15 mph, while the tandem trucks are able to travel at twice that speed. A fleet of tandem-axle plow trucks would open the road twice as fast, without drafting snowplow drivers from the Denver area to maintain the freeway in Summit and Eagle counties.Every time that any driver is delayed behind a single-axle snowplow climbing at 15 mph out of Vail or is stuck behind a snowplow with tires spinning in gridlock traffic, the driver should submit a complaint. Any time that a traveler is delayed by a speeding or ill-equipped passenger vehicle that slams a deteriorated concrete barrier, knocks-out a guardrail, or sails into the ditch, the driver should submit a complaint.
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