Lawmakers stall bills on chain-up penalties, private toll road restrictions

| 3/1/2007

A bill in a Colorado House panel to boost the fines for truck drivers who fail to chain up has been sidelined. Lawmakers cited a lack of safe places for truckers to pull over as a primary reason for not advancing the legislation.

Another bill to restrict the use of eminent domain by private road builders and the Colorado Department of Transportation met the same fate.

Existing Colorado law fines truckers $100, plus $13 in surcharges, for failure to put on snow chains. If an unchained truck results in a blocked highway the fine jumps to $500, plus $61 in surcharges. Drivers don't have pointes added to their commercial driver's licenses for the offense.

Sponsored by Rep. Dan Gibbs, D-Silverthorne, the bill - HB1229 - would increase the base fine of $100 to $500. And, it would have four points tacked onto violators' CDLs.

The House Transportation and Energy Committee voted 7-6 against moving the bill forward to the chamber floor. On a separate vote, lawmakers stopped short of out right killing the bill, which means there's an outside chance it could be brought back before the session ends in May.

Supporters told lawmakers the steeper penalties are needed because truckers and their companies simply write off the current fine as "the cost of doing business." They said the need to address the issue is highlighted because portions of Interstate 70 had to be closed 15 times in Colorado this winter because of chainless trucks.

Opponents said failure to comply with the rule can be attributed to a lack of adequate space on roadways for drivers to install chains - not to mention the safety concerns. Too few designated chain-up sites along routes also was cited as a problem for truckers.

Colorado State Patrol Capt. Ron Prater said he has noticed the state's designated chain areas can't always handle the truck traffic that uses the I-70 corridor. He said the shortage of spots along the corridor is so bad that it's not uncommon to see truck drivers pulled off anywhere along the route to put on or take off their chains, the Summit Daily News reported.

Rep. Dianne Primavera, D-Broomfield, said she switched from supporting the bill to being in opposition to it after hearing from truckers.

"It seems to me like this is everybody's problem," Primavera told the Daily News. "To try and say it's just the truckers' problem, it's hard for me to do at this point in time."

To help alleviate some of the problem, CDOT has pledged $1.2 million to improve chain-up sites and signage to reduce traffic speed near the pull-offs.

Gibbs said he is hopeful the state spending will make his proposal more palatable to lawmakers when he reintroduces it.

A separate bill that ran into trouble in the transportation committee would require CDOT to adhere to long-term plans for roads initiated by metropolitan and regional planning organizations. Neither private companies nor CDOT could use eminent domain to acquire land for a toll road unless that road was included in regional road planning

Sponsored by Rep. Marsha Looper, D-Calhan, the bill - HB1068 - also would require that private developers of toll roads first acquire a minimum of 80 percent of the proposed rights of way before the state could initiate the use of eminent domain - and only then if the road was included in long-term regional plans.

At issue is the proposed 210-mile Prairie Falcon Parkway Expressway, often referred to as the "Super Slab." The three-mile-wide path would include railroad and utility lines.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor