Better enforcement for I-70 snow conditions needed

Interstate 70 from Georgetown to Silverthorne and from Copper Mountain to Vail was closed April 5 for multiple hours. According to CDOT, this was the result of multiple accidents. The driving conditions were indeed extremely dangerous. I know because I was trying to get back from Denver and the interstate was very icy, snow packed, wind blasted and congested with vehicles as far as I could see.

Recently, Colorado bill HB16-1039, otherwise known as Colorado Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush’s bill, was passed in the Colorado House of Representatives only to be overturned in the Senate by three Republican senators. I’m certain if any of those opposing senators had witnessed what I did (April 5), they would be overturning their votes. The bill calls for adequate tires, chains or other traction devices to be on all vehicles (commercial and non-commercial) from Oct. 1-May 15 on the I-70 corridor between Morrison and Dotsero. It is a common sense, responsible and economically prudent piece of legislation. I think if most people who sat on that stretch of road last night were presented this bill, not only would they be voting “yes” for it, but asking for more to be done.

Overhead flashing lights warned drivers of the need for adequate snow traction devices, tires or chains for specific sections of the upcoming interstate. Numerous times along the I-70 corridor these signs flashed the same warning, so if you missed one sign, for sure you would see the next. One could even call CDOT and get an hourly update on road conditions and closures. So, why did I witness numerous vehicles without adequate snow traction? Could they not read the overhead flashing signs? I doubt it, because one must be able to read to pass a driver’s license exam. Maybe they thought that despite not having the proper snow traction on their vehicles they could drive safely and get through. Maybe they could and maybe they couldn’t. A very irresponsible and selfish driver thinks so recklessly.

I did not do a formal survey, but by the time I got to Copper Mountain (from Denver) my impatience with drivers not playing by the rules was peaking. I counted no less than 20 18-wheelers not chained up and spinning their wheels or throwing salt under their tires in a last ditch effort to make it up Vail Pass (east side). What?! Didn’t they have chains? If not, why not? If they had them, why weren’t they putting them on? Where was the State Patrol? Aren’t all trucks required to carry chains throughout the winter months? I also counted no less than 15 cars without snow tires (none were all-wheel drives or four-wheel drives). One car pulling a small trailer was jack knifed on the shoulder. What was he thinking? Or not? No small wonder it took 4.75 hours to get from Evergreen to Avon. This was all after the passes were reopened and the storm was over.

The problem is not just that the HB16-1039 bill just got shot down (as shocking as that is to those of us who live, work and/or play in the mountains) but that there needs to be better enforcement behind this type of legislation. I would first call for greater fines for people violating these traction laws. Currently, a private vehicle incurs a $130-$630 fine for not having adequate traction devices, tires or chains on their vehicles when such notice is in effect. Commercial vehicles incur fines anywhere from $67 to $1,157. The range in fines depend on if you are caught in a routine stop, to impeding progress of traffic, to the involvement in an accident. This seems like a minor fine to pay if the desired outcome is to get drivers to obey laws. I would suggest that most of these violators don’t think they will get caught or get in an accident. High country winter driving conditions need to be taken more seriously by all drivers. That is why I believe the fines need to go up significantly and potentially points and/or a suspension of one’s license might be in order for multiple violations. I would like to remind readers that approximately $800,000 per hour in revenue is lost when the interstate is shut down. That is a lot of dough from local, regional and state businesses!

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Finally, I believe we need to set up a checkpoint area. It should occur right after the chain-up areas. Police, State Patrol, CDOT employees and other qualified personal could check vehicles very quickly for adequate traction devices, tires or chains. Vehicles without proper snow traction would be turned around. This would not slow progress any more than stalled vehicles, vehicles impeding progress or a closed section of I-70 for multiple hours does. If anything, it would improve the flow of traffic, because vehicles might be slightly more spread out as they head up the passes. This would give ample room for people to drive at a safe speed for the impaired conditions.

Emily Graves

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