I-70 traction bill killed again, but some say debate increased awareness

March 25, 2016, 10:11 am

Interstate 70 traffic snarls in the winter.

Colorado’s state Senate Transportation Committee on Thursday killed a bipartisan I-70 traction bill sponsored by Vail-area lawmakers Sen. Kerry Donovan and Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush aimed at reducing the number of motorists who cause road closures and delays on the Interstate 70 corridor in the winter.

Dubbed the “I-70 traction bill,” the proposed law would have clarified that everyday motorists – not just commercial truckers — traveling in the state’s critical mountain transit corridor must have adequate tires, chains or alternate traction devices for their vehicles from Oct. 1 to May 15 between Dotsero and Morrison on I-70.

The I70 traction bill also would have clarified law enforcement’s ability to enforce existing traction laws. Also sponsored by Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, and Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, HB16-1039 was endorsed by a wide variety of public-safety agencies, businesses, civic and tourism groups.

It’s estimated that for every hour that I-70 is shut down due to a spun-out motorist, the state suffers an economic loss of $800,000, and that Colorado ski areas lose business to Utah and other ski destinations that have better, more reliable access between major airports and the slopes.

Western Slope Republican Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Ray Scott joined Greeley Republican Sen. John Cooke in killing the bill for the second straight session on a 3-2 party-line vote. The bill had passed the Democrat-controlled House 46-18 in February.

“I know I speak for the vast majority of Western Slope residents when I say I’m deeply disappointed by the failure of this bill,” said Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, who represents Routt and Eagle counties in the legislature. “I will continue to work with all stakeholders to improve public safety and reduce closures on the I-70 mountain corridor.”

Discussion of the bill the last two sessions has increased awareness of the issue and prompted more inquiries about tire safety and traction in the winter months, according to some observers.

Parts manager Terry Palko of Phil Long Ford in Denver says people were coming in last fall asking about new tire-traction laws after seeing news reports. He estimates between 10 to 15 percent of his customers last fall came in specifically asking about news reports they’d seen regarding the proposed traction law.

“The news made people aware of it. If nothing else, it was very good awareness,” Palko said. “People did come in to buy new tires or to be sure that when we checked their tires they had the eighth of inch [of tread] and they did have mud and snow-rated tires. So it was a good thing. Do I think it spurred some tire sales? Yes. Do I think we can attribute Ford’s success in selling tires or the increased tire sales to that? No.”

Palko points out that Phil Long Ford in Denver has always done brisk business in tire sales.

“Phil Long Denver has always been very successful as far as tires,” Palko said. “We were ranked 34th in the country as far as tire purchases for Ford last year. We’ve always been in the top 100 for years.”


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David O. Williams
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent, Colorado Politics formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

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