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Law banning "jakes’ under scrutiny

Stephen Lloyd Wood

A law banning the use of engine-compression brakes, commonly called “jakes,” on Interstate 70 through Vail is getting another look.

With two new members in its ranks, the Vail Town Council is pondering whether to pass legislation its predecessor drafted to send a message to the trucking industry to the books. Vail’s new town manager, Stan Zemler, has provided another path toward a peaceful valley.

“We want to try a few things and see how they work,” says Zemler, referring to a plan he’s worked over the past month or so that seeks cooperation from the trucking industry, not antagonism. “If they want to help, it may get more accomplished in the long run.”



“Immediate and imminent danger’

Ordinance 28 is up for final review today by the council, which now includes newcomers Kent Logan and Kim Ruotolo. If adopted as written, it would amend the town code, making it unlawful to use a “dynamic braking device” on any motor vehicle on I-70 within town limits “except for the aversion of immediate and imminent danger.”



The previous council, in this issue led by Greg Moffet, who was re-elected to a two-year term on the council Nov. 4, drafted the legislation to “send a message” to the trucking industry that “the town is serious” about doing something about the noise emanating from I-70, said Moffet and other council members at the time who supported it – Ludwig Kurz, Rod Slifer and Chuck Ogilby.

Working “collaboratively’

Zemler proposes a kindler, gentler approach that some believe is more realistic in the short term, as well as the long term. He and members of the town’s staff have travelled to Denver and met with the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, ultimately drafting a memorandum of understanding in which the town and the association would “work collaboratively on a series of of education, enforcement and engineering items to reduce noise and improve safe travel along I-70.”



Key to the agreement, an option the council will consider today, is a year-long pilot program, in conjunction with the State Patrol, beginning Dec. 1. After an initial media campaign, Vail police would begin a four-month campaign of traffic stops “with an educational component” consisting of warnings. After that the police “would transition to a more restrictive phase,” including citations, which could approach the maximum allowable fine in Vail of $999.

Quarterly reports would inform the council as to the pilot program’s progress.

Meanwhile, other steps would be taken:

– Sending town staff members to a state transportation commission meeting Wednesday.

– Researching a “temporary sound wall” to determine its effectiveness.

– Developing and researching a “glass wall demonstration project” that would seek federal funding for technology used in Europe, primarily Switzerland.

– Asking state engineers to conduct an I-70 “speed assessment,” with the goal being a reduction of the speed limit for all vehicles through Vail.

– Further studying the financial implications of “burying I-70” through town.

A “bellwether’

“Stan did a great job in working with us and the town’s staff as partners in a solution instead of being adversaries,” says Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents the trucking industry in Colorado. “The ordinance itself addresses only a certain segment of motorists. At the same time, it significantly would compromise safety, the highest priority in our industry.”

“We’d rather err on the side of safety,” adds Fulton, who plans to attend tonight’s council meeting. “But everyone needs to have patience. A lot of this stuff takes a lot of time, and we need to work together.”

Vail might be ahead of its time on this issue, Fulton says. But as with other things in the past, such as roundabouts, the town often is a “bellwether” for other communities.

“We need this to be a win-win situation,” says Fulton. “There’s the chance to set up a model that will work elsewhere, too.”

Newcomer “encouraged’

Logan, who won the most votes of any candidate for the Town Council Nov. 4 on a platform that included doing something about noise from I-70, says the collaborative efforts by Zemler are “a step in the right direction.”

“I’m very encouraged there’s been a reaction from the trucking industry this quickly,” says Logan. “It should be a high priority for the town of Vail.”

A matter of safety

Stephen Lloyd Wood

I-70 descends about 500 feet in altitude from East Vail to West Vail, with another 500-foot drop coming before Eagle-Vail. The smell of asbestos brake pads and the sight of truck brakes smoking – or even on fire – are relatively common, and runaway truck ramps are a feature of the local landscape.

Truckers say they often use “the jake,” named for the Jacobs Engine Brake, trademarked by Jacobs Vehicle Systems, to supplement the use of their wheel brakes, especially on long, downhill grades. Typically, a trucker negotiating Interstate 70 westbound would turns on the jake brake at Vail Pass and leaves it engaged well past Vail, perhaps all the way to Avon, Edwards or even Eagle, they say.

The noise most people associate with “the jake” actually occurs when the trucker lifts his foot off the gas pedal, sending compressed air into the engine’s cylinder heads and turning the engine into a power-absorbing air compressor, they say.


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