(Jan. 27) – Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush’s campaign to protect public safety on the mountain corridor of Interstate 70 cleared its first legislative hurdle today with a bipartisan 9-4 vote in the House Transportation & Energy Committee.

“CDOT has done all it can under current statute and rule to educate drivers,” Rep. Mitsch Bush explained. “But under current law and rule, CDOT cannot state that adequate tires or chains are required until after a Code 15 has been called. That is often too late to prevent spinouts” caused by passenger vehicles that are not equipped for winter mountain driving.

HB16-1039, also sponsored by Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale and endorsed by the bipartisan Transportation Legislation Review Committee, states that motorists must have adequate tires, or chains or alternate traction devices on their vehicles from October 1 to May 15 between Dotsero and Morrison on I-70.

“This bill provides certainty and predictability for motorists who are currently unsure about what they need and when they need it under Code 15,” Mitsch Bush emphasized. “It provides the same certainty that crucial 2009 legislation provided by requiring traction equipment between these same mile markers on specific dates for semi trucks. Since that time, the number of accidents and closures due to ill equipped semi trucks has declined because CDOT could post clear signage and educate.”

Every year, the I-70 mountain corridor shuts down repeatedly because drivers with worn tires spin out or simply lose traction, blocking snow- or ice-covered lanes. Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger testified that without this bill, public safety risks multiply for other drivers, for law enforcement and ambulances. This endangers lives. Eagle County Paramedic Director Chris Montera recounted an incident in which an ambulance was stuck behind spun-out vehicles for six hours in transit to a Front Range hospital.

In addition to the risk to public safety, the state suffers an estimated $800,000 economic loss for every hour that I-70 is closed, making Coloradans late for work and giving stuck-in-traffic visitors plenty of time to think about heading to some other state for their next ski vacation.

The bill now goes to the House floor.

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