I-70 snow tire bill could hit road block Thursday at Senate hearing
Steamboat Springs — Northwest Colorado’s two state legislators are again in the opposite lanes on a proposed bill that aims to reduce winter crashes and traffic snarls on Interstate 70 in the mountains.
Although the bill earned bipartisan support in the Colorado House and is backed by several business owners, ski area executives and emergency responders, there’s a strong chance it will hit a road block Thursday when it is heard by the state’s Senate Transportation Committee.
State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, believes the bill, which would require all passenger vehicles to have adequate tires or chains or alternative traction devices from Oct. 1 to May 15 on the interstate between Morrison and Dotsero, will make driving safer on the vital roadway that connects the Western Slope to the Front Range.
“Right now, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol only have the authority to educate and enforce (passenger vehicle traction laws) when a Code 15 (chain law) is put into effect,” Mitsch Bush said. “During that time gap before the chain law is called, there are no requirements. That’s what this bill is trying to address.”
Testifying in support of the bill, State Patrol Sergeant David Hall said that under the current rules, “it’s too late to prevent anything” by the time CDOT can declare an emergency.
Mitsch Bush said Monday that unless some Republican senators she has heard are opposed to the bill change their positions on Thursday, the legislation is poised to die in committee.
It would be the second time in two years a bill aiming to clarify the traction laws on I-70 would be defeated.
State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, leads the commission that will decide the bill’s fate.
He’s skeptical of the proposed rule change.
“Obviously, we already have a tire traction law and, just as obviously, that law is being enforced. So why the need for a duplicative law?” Baumgardner asked in an op-ed he recently wrote expressing opposition to the bill.
Baumgardner said the “real problem” is the roadway is in need of widening and modernization.
“I just don’t see how another tire traction law, on top of the tire traction law already on the books, will meaningfully address such a complex set of congestion-creating circumstances,” he wrote.
He said the crash rate along the I-70 corridor has been falling and he is hopeful that trend will continue as the Colorado State Patrol and CDOT step up education and enforcement efforts related to tire traction on I-70.
He added it seems unfair to apply more strict traction laws on I-70 and not other mountain passes in the state.
Mitsch Bush said she had heard senators Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, and John Cooke, R- Greeley, who also serve on the transportation committee, are “pretty locked down against the bill.”
“They are telling people it’s not needed,” Mitsch Bush said.
Scott and Cooke couldn’t immediately be reached Monday afternoon to discuss their positions on the bill.
Mitsch Bush’s bill passed out of the House with strong bipartisan support last month.
She said under the new legislation, drivers would be able to more clearly understand that anytime winter conditions exist on I-70 they need the proper equipment and could, under current law, face citations and fines of $500 or more if they cause an accident or close the road due to inadequate traction.
Mitsch Bush said the bill will correct a “critical gap” in the current traction law.
She added a similar bill passed in 2009 for commercial vehicles resulted in a decline in accidents and closures caused by trucks.
The bill is backed by Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado State Patrol, the I-70 Coalition, a group of 52 business and government organizations on the I-70 corridor, law enforcement groups that respond to accidents on the interstate, Colorado Ski Country USA, Winter Park Resort, Vail Resorts and other business leaders who lose visitor revenue when the interstate closes.
Mitsch Bush said several people are expected to testify in support of the bill Thursday.
“I’m hoping they will really listen, and the testimony will persuade them to support this bill,” she said of the members of Senate Transportation Committee.
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