Colorado I-70 winter tire bill to return | VailDaily.com

Colorado I-70 winter tire bill to return

A bill to require motorists be prepared for traction laws, including having adequate tire traction, from October to May on Interstate 70 was turned down by the Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday. The bill is dead for this year, but Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, said she will continue to work for improved public safety and reduced closures of I-70.
Vail Daily file | Daily file photo

What it does

In its current form, a proposed bill to define “winter traction” requirements for winter driving along Interstate 70 through the mountains would:

• Specify mile markers between which passenger cars must have “adequate traction equipment.”

• Specifies that motorists traveling that stretch of highway must have that equipment when the highway is snowy and icy.

• Clarifies existing legal definitions of adequate tires and other equipment.

• Requires the Colorado Department of Transportation to educate drivers and have signs informing drivers of the requirements.

EAGLE COUNTY — When Interstate 70 closes or clogs during snowstorms, the culprits often are motorists who don’t have the right tires for the conditions. Eagle County’s state representative will take another shot at helping ease those closures in the Colorado Legislature’s 2016 session.

Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, a Steamboat Springs Democrat who represents Eagle and Routt counties in the legislature, in January introduced a bill that would require passenger car drivers to have “adequate traction equipment” when driving along the mountainous portions of I-70 in the winter. Rep. Bob Rankin, a Carbondale Republican, was the co-sponsor. Those requirements are already in place for commercial vehicles. The bill would have applied the fines and penalties for truckers to motorists.

The bill was broadly supported by private groups, local governments and two state agencies. The bill passed the Colorado House of Representatives, but it eventually died in the Colorado Senate, when it was turned into a “study,” not a law.

Mitsch Bush and Rankin are taking another crack at the bill for the 2016 session. In fact, the Legislature’s Transportation Legislation Review Committee will look at the bill at a meeting today in Denver.

In an email to supporters, Mitsch Bush wrote that the bill she plans to introduce in the next session has been simplified and clarified.

“This proposed bill does not increase fines, add checkpoints or make existing tread requirements more stringent,” Mitsch Bush wrote. “Rather it clarifies motorists’ responsibilities and requires that (the Colorado Department of Transportation) provide public education and proper signage. Motorists are already required to have proper equipment when the passenger vehicle portion of the chain law is in effect, however most motorists are not aware of these existing requirements.”

RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS

Vail Town Council member Dale Bugby was an early supporter of the 2015 proposal. He said he believes the new bill “has a much better shot” at becoming law.

“The best part for me is the educational provisions to educate the driving public,” Bugby said. “I think even more than enforcement, education may be missing these days.”

Bugby noted that 30 or more years ago — when most passenger cars and trucks were two-wheel-drive vehicles with the engines in front and driving wheels in the rear — most people who drove into the mountains carried tire chains for slick roads.

“Then everybody bought a four-wheel-drive and that (awareness) kind of slipped,” Bugby said.

That education will rely in part on the variable message signs on I-70 from roughly Golden to west of Glenwood Springs.

Mitsch Bush said if this law passes, the department of transportation will be able to put “snow tires required” on those signs whenever “snowy and icy conditions” exist along the corridor. As the law currently stands, those signs can only “recommend” snow tires or chains.

Margaret Bowes is the director of the I-70 Coalition, a nonprofit group of local governments and private organizations located along the highway’s mountain corridor. She’s also optimistic about the next bill’s chances for success.

“There was a lot of misunderstanding about the (first) bill,” Bowes said, adding that opponents believed the law was creating new requirements for drivers.

“This time around, the bill will be clear that it’s clarifying existing statutes — it doesn’t increase requirements or fines,” she said.

Mitsch Bush said she and Rankin will introduce the bill in the next session regardless of how the Transportation Legislation Review Committee rules. And, Bugby said, awareness about the proposed law now provides a chance to lobby legislators.

“It’s a good opportunity to talk about the issue and keep it front of the public,” he said.

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, smiller@vaildaily.com or @scottnmiller.

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