An Interstate 70 traction bill that was proposed last year was given another shot this session, with the recommendation of the Transportation Legislative Review Committee (TLRC). House Bill 1039, intended to clarify current passenger traction law, recently passed the Colorado House in a Tuesday vote.
The bill has been able to culminate bipartisan support in the House, co-sponsored by Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D- Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.
During Tuesday’s vote, the measure passed on third reading, with a vote of 46-18. Of 31 total House Republicans, 13 voted in favor of the bill, while it passed unanimously on the Democratic front.
“That could make a little difference,” Mitsch Bush said. “We’ll see.”
Last session, the bill lost traction in the Colorado Senate, after opposition voted to turn the bill into a study, therefore removing all binding power.
The current version of the bill mirrors the original, requiring Colorado drivers to have four-wheel drive, adequate snow tires or traction devices on I-70 between Dotsero and Morrison from Oct. 1 to May 15.
Current Colorado law requires passenger vehicles to meet traction requirements when a “Code 15” or Traction Law is called following adverse weather conditions. However, Mitsch Bush argues that between the time adverse conditions roll in and traction law is put into effect, unprepared vehicles may have already spun out.
“That’s when the accidents happen. That’s when the closures happen,” Mitsch Bush said. “Those are preventable if we could put up signage earlier.”
Colorado State Patrol has previously stated that accidents account for up to 60 percent of delays. And for every 10 minutes of delay, it takes an hour for the traffic behind the incident to clear.
“Passenger vehicles losing traction are a problem for this corridor,” I-70 coalition director Margaret Bowes said. “We believe (HB 1039) will go a long way toward alleviating confusion around existing law, improving safety for travellers and emergency service personnel.”
THE VALUE OF TREAD
Under current law, if a driver causes an accident or road closure when a “Code 15” is in effect and is found without snow tires, four-wheel drive or chains, they may face a fine of more than $500. However, a ticket is not the only cost of a blockage on I-70.
According to a 2007 report by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, a one-percent decline in mountain resort region tourism spending due to congestion would translate to an annual loss of $25 million to Colorado, and a loss of $1.2 million in sales tax revenue for the affected city, county and the state.
“You’re talking about hundreds of hours during the year,” Mitsch Bush said. “It’s also about public safety.”
Not only do out-of-control vehicles pose a risk to other drivers, but fire engines, ambulances and patrol cars have been hit before, too. In addition, I-70 serves as a vital connection between Summit County and Denver, allowing ambulances to transport patients that Summit Medical Center does not have the equipment to serve.
Mitsch Bush added one speaker at the statehouse said it had taken more than six hours to transport a critically-ill patient to Denver through I-70. Thankfully, the patient survived.
While the Colorado Department of Transportation has pushed drivers to better equip their vehicles in an education campaign for the past two years, the number of adequately prepared vehicles still varies by location. In December, a courtesy tire check of 600 vehicles at the Dinosaur Lots in Golden showed that only one third would not be compliant with traction law. In Vail, at a Big O Tires parking lot, 6.4 percent of 1,141 vehicles were compliant.
“It makes sense for vehicles to be prepared for the conditions, and that’s exactly what the traction law requires,” said Division of Transportation systems management and operations director Ryan Rice. “If you’re in a snow storm and your tires aren’t adequate, you’re not only a danger to yourself, but everyone else on the road.”
To be in compliance with the current law, vehicles must have, specifically, either four-wheel drive, snow tires, mud and snow tires, chains or an alternative traction device. All tires, no matter the vehicle, must have a minimum one-eighth inch tread.