(Feb. 18) – Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush’s bill to reduce the number of wintertime traffic tie-ups on the mountain portions of Interstate 70 cleared its first legislative hurdle today.

HB15-1173, sponsored by Reps. Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, would clarify that vehicles without chains or other traction devices, or adequate tread depth on their tires, are subject to fines that are already on the books if they cause traffic problems in the mountain corridor of I-70 during snow season, Nov. 1 to May 15.

All the witnesses appearing today before the House Transportation & Energy Committee testified in favor of the bill. Several mentioned that poorly equipped vehicles don’t need to crash, or even to spin out, to cause a massive backup – they merely need to get stuck on an uphill section of road and be unable to get enough traction to start moving forward again, causing a domino effect as other underequipped vehicles and well-equipped semi trucks get stuck too.

Other witnesses testified that closures along Interstate 70 have a chilling effect on the winter tourism that supports the economies of many Colorado mountain communities. If an otherwise great ski vacation is ruined when an I-70 tie-up causes a family to miss their flight home, that family is more likely to ski elsewhere next time.

Rep. Mitsch Bush told the committee that the highway was critical to more than just the tourism industry. “For energy, for agriculture, for folks who are trying get to medical appointments who live on the Western Slope and don’t have those facilities and need to get to Denver, or to its suburbs, I-70 is the lifeline, not just for Western Colorado, but indeed for our whole state,” she said.

The Transportation Committee’s vote was 8-5. Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, joined the seven-member Democratic majority, but the rest of the committee’s GOP members voted against the interests of rural Colorado.

The bill goes to the House floor.

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