Snow tire legislation loses traction in Colorado Senate
Steamboat Springs — State Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush will continue pushing for legislation that would require more drivers to use snow tires or chains on Interstate 70 in the mountains.
Her resolve came a day after the State Senate took all the air out of the House’s snow tire proposal and replaced it with a plan to study the issue for the next year.
“Ideally, we can come up with a compromise,” Mitsch Bush said Wednesday. “We haven’t given up.”
Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, co-sponsored a bipartisan bill that would have required drivers of passenger vehicles to carry chains or use snow or all-season tires with adequate tread when traveling on I-70 between Morrison and Dotsero in winter conditions.
Drivers with all-wheel or four-wheel drive and adequate tread would also be in compliance.
Violators would face a $500 fine if they caused a lane closure.
The bill received bipartisan support in the House and was backed by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Colorado State Patrol and the state’s ski industry.
But the legislation recently lost traction in the Senate and was sent back to the House as a proposed study instead of a new law.
Senate Republicans questioned how the new law would be enforced.
When the tougher chain law cleared its first floor vote in the House, Mitsch Bush cited CDOT data that showed passenger vehicle crashes were responsible for more hours of closure time on I-70 last winter than commercial vehicle crashes.
She said the proposed bill was the result of seven months of stakeholder meetings and years worth of studies.
“We came to a practical bill that everyone agreed with,” she said.
Kathy Connell, who represents Northwest Colorado on the State Transportation Commission, was also disappointed by the Senate’s proposal to study the issue more before enacting new rules.
She said it is already known that drivers without adequate tires have caused accidents and traffic delays on Interstate 70.
During one big traffic jam near the Eisenhower Tunnel on Feb. 9, 2014, officials with the Colorado Department of Transportation said 19 vehicles that were stuck in the snow were found to have bald tires, and the majority of those vehicles had Colorado license plates.
“We’re trying to eliminate costs and problems, so I’m disappointed they’re going to study this for a year,” Connell said. “I think it’s ridiculous.”
Connell said taking action to prevent traffic jams and accidents on the I-70 corridor will benefit both public safety and the state’s economy.
State Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, emerged as one of the leading critics of the snow tire bill.
Before the Senate ultimately stripped the bill down, he added an amendment to the legislation that expanded its application beyond the I-70 corridor to all state highways that go over mountain passes.
Some lawmakers, including Mitsch Bush and one of Baumgardner’s Republican colleagues in the Senate, saw the move as an attempt to doom the bill.
On Wednesday, Baumgardner issued a statement on the legislation.
“While there is no dispute that congestion along the I-70 corridor can create especially hazardous driving conditions during winter months, inevitably leading to accidents and delays, no convincing case has yet been made that one subset of highway users is disproportionately responsible for the problem or that a tougher chain law would make the situation measurably better,” Baumgardner wrote.
He said it “makes sense to study this issue vigorously before taking action because of the large implications of this bill.”
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