Gibbs: I-70 Traction Bill needs our support (column)
As any Summit County resident knows, a single vehicle that loses traction on the Eisenhower Tunnel approach on a Sunday afternoon can close an individual lane or the entire highway, bringing already-heavy traffic to a standstill. In the worst cases, that congestion backs up onto Highways 6 and 9, as well as our local roads, causing maddening gridlock for locals and visitors alike.
Thankfully, state legislators are working on a measure that would reduce the frequency of these frustrating incidents. HB 16-1039, the I-70 Traction Bill, would require that all passenger vehicles traveling on I-70 between mile markers 133 and 259 (Dotsero to Morrison) have adequate tires and/or a traction device from Oct. 1 through May 15. During this period, motorists would need to have either snow tires, mud/snow (M+S) tires or a four-wheel/all-wheel drive vehicle; all tires would have to have a minimum tread depth of one-eighth inch. Vehicles that don’t meet these requirements could comply by carrying an approved traction device, such as chains or an AutoSock.
These requirements for passenger vehicles already exist when Code 15 is enacted, during winter weather emergencies. However, statute prevents CDOT from stating that proper tires and/or equipment are required unless Code 15 is in effect, even when road conditions are known to be deteriorating. As a result, drivers without proper equipment may already be en route when Code 15 is enacted, potentially endangering themselves and/or other travelers and finding themselves subject to citations and fines over $500. Currently, CDOT may have to enact and lift Code 15 several times in a given day as conditions change, creating confusion among drivers. Enacting traction requirements for the duration of the winter season would remove uncertainty for drivers and enable CDOT to consistently deliver on-road education about what equipment is required.
A similar season-long traction requirement on I-70 was enacted for commercial vehicles in 2009. According to CDOT data, closures caused by poor traction on commercial vehicles have declined since this measure took effect. We have every reason to expect that providing this same level of certainty and education in the passenger vehicle traction law will result in similar progress.
HB 16-1039 would not change the traction-equipment requirements for passenger vehicles. Nor would it change the fines associated with violating the traction or chain laws. The I-70 Coalition believes HB 16-1039 will positively impact I-70 mobility by making the traction law requirements much clearer to the traveling public, resulting in fewer accidents and improving safety for travelers and emergency responders.
HB 16-1039 recently passed out of the Colorado House of Representatives, with broad support from many public- and private-sector organizations, including CDOT, Colorado State Patrol, the I-70 Mountain Corridor Coalition (including Summit County government and local towns), Colorado Motor Carriers Association, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, Vail Resorts, Colorado Restaurant Association, Eagle County Paramedic Services and many others.
Unfortunately, the bill faces an uncertain fate in the Senate, where Transportation Committee Chair Randy Baumgardner (who happens to represent Summit County) has indicated that he opposes this common-sense legislation. I urge Summit County residents, visitors and business owners to contact Sen. Baumgardner at 303-866-5292 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let him know that you support HB 16-1039. Let’s keep I-70 moving.
The I-70 Coalition is non-profit organization representing 28 local governments and businesses along and adjacent to the I-70 mountain corridor. The organization’s mission is to enhance public accessibility and mobility in the I-70 mountain corridor through the implementation of joint public and private transportation management efforts.
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