Diane Mitsch Bush: Facts on the I-70 winter traction bill
March 21, 2016
HB1039, a bill to require adequate traction equipment for passenger vehicles on the mountain corridor of Interstate 70, is needed to protect public safety and promote economic competitiveness for our mountain communities and our state.
The bill passed the House with strong bipartisan support Feb. 2. It will be heard in Senate Transportation Committee March 24. Numerous organizations that support it are listed below.
This bipartisan bill seeks to prevent accidents and closures of I-70 by correcting a critical gap in current traction law pertaining to passenger vehicles. A 2009 bill filled the same gap for semi-trucks traveling the I-70 mountain corridor, resulting in a decline in accidents and closures caused by trucks. Colorado Department of Transportation data from 2010 to 2015 clearly show this dramatic improvement in safety. However, during the same period, the CDOT data show increases in accidents and closures caused by passenger vehicles with inadequate tires.
Under current law, CDOT cannot state “passenger vehicles must have adequate tires, chains, or alternate traction devices” until after a “Code 15” (passenger vehicle chain law) is officially invoked. This time gap when conditions have deteriorated, but the traction law is not yet in place, is precisely when passenger vehicles with bald tires cause accidents, delays for others who have adequate tires and closures of I-70.
Currently, drivers cannot be prepared for changing conditions if a Code 15 is called after they are underway.
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Until that Code 15 is called, good tires or chains are not required by law. Cars with inadequate tires spin out, causing I-70 to be closed, sometimes for hours. Data from a study commissioned by the Denver Metro Chamber show statewide economic losses of at least $800,000 for each hour the mountain corridor is closed.
HB1039 requires adequate tires, chains or alternate traction devices on or in the vehicle from Oct. 1 to May 15 from Dotsero to Morrison for passenger vehicles. Colorado State Patrol Sergeant David Hall testified that under current law, “By the time CDOT can declare an emergency Code 15, it’s too late to prevent anything. This bill allows law enforcement to be proactive. It takes the guessing out. “
HB1039 provides certainty for motorists who are currently unsure about what they need for safe travel. The tourism industry strongly supports this bill.
Businesses, governments, and law enforcement are on the record in support HB1039, including: CDOT; CSP; Club20; I-70 Coalition (52 business and government organizations on I-70 Mountain Corridor); Colorado Hotel and Lodging Association; Colorado Restaurant Association; Vail Resorts; Colorado Ski Country USA; Winter Park Resort; I-70 chambers of commerce; I-70 towns; Denver Metro Chamber; Colorado Competitive Council-C3; Colorado Motor Carriers; Colorado-Wyoming Petroleum Marketers; police chiefs; and Eagle County Paramedics/EMS, representing firefighters and ambulances.
Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger testified that without this bill, public safety risks multiply for other drivers, for law enforcement and ambulances. This endangers lives. Eagle County Paramedic Director Chris Montera recounted an incident in which an ambulance was stuck behind spun out vehicles for six hours while in transit to a Front Range hospital.
In addition to the risk to public safety, the state suffers an estimated $800,000 economic loss for every hour that I-70 is closed, making Coloradans late for work, preventing goods from moving across the mountains and giving stuck-in-traffic visitors plenty of time to think about heading to some other state for their next ski vacation.
This bipartisan bill is needed to protect public safety and ensure economic competitiveness for our mountain counties and for our beautiful state.
State Representative Diane Mitsch Bush (D-Steamboat Springs) represents Eagle County and Routt County in the Colorado House of Representatives. She is vice-chair of the House Transportation Committee and co-prime House Sponsor of HB16-1039.