Unchained truckers may face more fines
SUMMIT COUNTY – When semi-truck drivers lose control of their rigs during wintry weather and force the temporary closure of Interstate 70, numerous industries are affected. The tourism industry, the economies of mountain communities and the trucking industry itself all lose money when traffic is stalled on the interstate.But who’s to blame?Should the finger be pointed at truck drivers for failing to comply with the chain law or can the problem be attributed a lack of adequate space on the roadways for drivers to install chains?
Eagle County State Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, thinks the former is at the root of the issue.He plans to introduce a bill in the state House today to increase the current fine for truckers who don’t put on chains and also tack four points onto their driver’s licenses for the offense.Chain law fines are $116.16, but drivers do not get points on their license. That fine can be increased to $500 if an unchained vehicle results in a blocked highway. Gibbs said he wants the penalty stiffened to $500 across the board.”In my opinion if you have minimal penalties for people who don’t comply with the laws, folks say, ‘That’s just the cost of doing business,'” Gibbs said.But, Greg Fulton, the president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, which represents the state’s truckers, says Gibbs’ bill is “putting the cart before the horse.””I think what we feel needs to happen before we look at additional penalties is that we need to create enough spaces and locations for the chain-up areas – we’re short on that,” Fulton said.
Jeff Kullman, regional director for the Colorado Department of Transportation, stranded big rigs have forced the closure of 13 individual lanes of traffic on I-70 between Denver and Vail since the beginning of winter. During that same period, a portion of the interstate has been entirely shut down on 15 times due to chainless trucks, he added.The agency has never examined the economic impacts of such closures, but Kullman cited an analysis completed in California for Interstate 80 over Donner Pass – a 7,085-foot pass connecting the Sacramento and San Francisco metro areas to Sierra Nevada resort communities like Truckee. Both Donner Pass and the Eisenhower Tunnel see about 30,000 vehicles a day, he said.That study showed that when Donner Pass closes, the effect on the economy equates to $1 million an hour, Kullman said.”That’s a real high number to us, but that’s what one state has used to show what the costs of a closure is,” Kullman said.From Fulton’s perspective, the issue goes beyond the scope of truck drivers simply choosing not to follow the law. In his opinion, highway infrastructure hasn’t kept up with the growth in the trucking industry.
Between Denver and Grand Junction, there’s a shortage of “a couple hundred” truck parking spaces every night, he said. It’s often tough for a driver who wants to wait out a storm to find a place to do so particularly when the rest area parking lots haven’t been plowed, he said.On the Eisenhower Tunnel approaches, there are six eastbound chain-up stations and four westbound stations, the Department of Transportation says.Also, safety is always a huge concern, compounded even further by the Jan. 7 death of a Wal-Mart driver who was struck and killed by an out-of-control SUV as he took the chains off his truck at a designated chain station in Georgetown. Fulton thinks some sort of protective barrier should be considered at chain-up stations to shield vulnerable drivers from traffic while they take on and off their chains. “In a lot of ways you need to look at a chain-up area almost like you look at a mini work zone,” Fulton said.