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Local lawmaker eyes bill to hike fines for traction scofflaws on I-70

September 15, 2014, 10:47 am
I-70 closed off ramp winter

Scenes like this were far too common last winter along I-70 in Colorado. Lawmakers are debating how best to deal with the situation (I-70 Coalition photo).

Democrat Diane Mitsch Bush, who represents Vail and surrounding Eagle County in the State House, told Government Executive State & Local she’s weighing a bill to address vehicle traction along Interstate 70 to avoid prolonged winter closures between Vail and Denver.

“I’m working on a bill that will deal with traction issues and how we better educate and inform and looking at questions of fines and whether they’re adequate,” Mitsch Bush said. “And that’s for passenger vehicles as well as for commercial vehicles Passenger cars are really a part of the problem.”

A former Routt County commissioner, Mitsch Bush is running for reelection against retired businessman Chuck McConnell, a Republican who also lives in Routt County.

The I-70 debate, after a series of high-profile incidents last winter that ballooned two-hour drive times to nearly nine hours, has increasingly become political.

A variety of politicians seeking different offices in November weighed in at a local meeting last week of the Colorado Lodging and Hotel Association, including Mitsch Bush and Republican nominee for governor Bob Beauprez.

Campaign representatives for Beauprez did not return phone calls and emails requesting comment last week.

A spokeswoman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said the state’s focus for now is on reducing truck traffic during peak ski season. The governor discussed an outright ban of commercial trucking during peak ski periods while campaigning in 2010.

Hickenlooper spokeswoman Kathy Green said the state has implemented a variety of tactics that helped reduce commercial truck traffic during peak ski periods by 10 percent and will continue to work on the issue.

Phil Amderle, real-time traffic and incident manager for the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), said a number of different tactics will be in play this winter, including increased courtesy patrols and metering of traffic to avoid too many vehicles approaching the Eisenhower Tunnel, jamming up and sliding out in adverse conditions. Another big step will be a full-time traffic coordinator CDOT is hiring for the critical 100-mile stretch of interstate.

Vail Mayor Andy Daly was traveling and therefore unable to attend last week’s lodging community meeting in Avon, but he said the issue is still front of mind for him.

“I think that’s going to begin to hurt Colorado as people look to places that have a great lifestyle and part of that lifestyle is easy access to recreation,” Daly told Real Vail last spring. “We’ve got some vulnerability, and if we don’t address Interstate 70, it’s going to be just another competitive disadvantage for Colorado as it tries to compete with the likes of Utah.”

That statement looks especially prescient in the wake of Vail Resorts’ acquisition last week of Park City Mountain Resort in Utah, where the ski slopes are a mere 35 to 40 minutes away from Salt Lake City International Airport on I-80.

Some Colorado stakeholders are pointing to I-80 in California, where Donner Pass is sometimes closed to truck traffic, as an example of what Colorado should be considering.

“It’s time to have the truck restrictions conversation we’ve been avoiding in Colorado,” said Melanie Mills, president and CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA, the state’s major ski-industry lobbying group. “Limited truck restrictions have been in place in the Sierras for many years. We think it’s time to take a hard look at whether they could be effective here in Colorado.”

But Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carrier’s Association, says Donner Pass is very different than I-70 between Denver and Vail, which has so many different potential bottlenecks.

Fulton argues that with reduced commercial truck traffic during peak ski season driving periods semi-tractor trailers are a very small part of the problem. Truckers, he says, already face the stiffest fines in the country for not carrying chains when the chain law is in effect. Now, he adds, it’s time to start looking at unchained private vehicles.

“With regard to a passenger traction requirement where automobiles and other light duty vehicles must have adequate tread or tires, we believe that this is a critical issue,” Fulton said. “While Colorado has the highest penalties in the country for truck drivers to apply chains, we have the lowest fine for automobiles that lack adequate tires or tread to travel when the chain law is in place.”

Fulton says limiting truck traffic could have vast national economic repercussions by raising the cost of goods transported along the vital east-west corridor, but ski industry officials are equally concerned about impacts to their $2 billion annual industry.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is the editor and co-founder of RealVail.com and has had his awarding-winning work (see About Us) published in more than 75 newspapers and magazines around the world, including 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), the Anchorage Daily Press (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Boulder Daily Camera, the Casper Star Tribune (Wyoming), the Chicago Tribune, Colorado Central Magazine, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Newsline, Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Cortez Journal, the Craig Daily Press, the Curry Coastal Pilot (Oregon), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Del Norte Triplicate (California), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, Explore Big Sky (Mont.), the Fort Morgan Times (Colorado), the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), the Kingman Daily Miner (Arizona), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the Las Vegas Sun, the Leadville Herald-Democrat, the London Daily Mirror, the Moab Times Independent (Utah), the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), the Montrose Daily Press, The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, the Rio Blanco Herald Times (Colorado), Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), the Salt Lake Tribune, SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Sky-Hi News, the Steamboat Pilot & Today, the Sterling Journal Advocate (Colorado), the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Health Magazine, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail, Westword (Denver), Writers on the Range and the Wyoming Tribune Eagle. Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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