A contingent of officials, including a Pitkin County commissioner, the sheriff and possibly the head of the Colorado State Patrol, plan on meeting with the state’s commercial trucking association to try to assuage concerns over a new bill that would increase fines on truckers who illegally use Independence Pass.
The bill, known as House Bill D, emerged last week from the state Legislature’s transportation legislation review committee. The proposed legislation is a product of conversations between county commissioners and Sheriff Joe DiSalvo with state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.
Schwartz, in turn, said this fall that she spoke to members of the transportation committee and helped to draft the potential bill.
State Rep. Max Tyler is a Democrat representing Lakewood, the head of the Legislature’s transportation committee and one of the bill’s co-sponsors. He said Friday that he expects the measure, which would boost fines on truckers caught on the pass from about $200 to $2,000, to be introduced in the Colorado House when the Legislature’s new session begins in January.
Local officials have long spoken about the need to increase penalties — either through a higher fine, more points on a driver’s license, or both — on truck drivers who violate the restriction that prevents vehicles longer than 35 feet on the pass. Many truck drivers believe using the pass is worth the risk of the $200 citation, which is usually for careless driving or ignoring traffic signs, or are unconcerned even when receiving such a ticket, because taking Independence Pass saves so much time and gasoline. Using another route can add 145 miles to a trip.
Tractor-trailer drivers cause a host of dangers to themselves and other motorists when they attempt to use the pass, authorities have said. Areas with sharp drop-offs and others where the traffic lanes narrow considerably have led to accidents, traffic jams and near-environmental catastrophes involving the pristine Roaring Fork River.
But the new bill may not be necessary.
Members of the transportation committee urged county officials to meet with the Colorado Motor Carriers Association about alternative steps that, if taken, could make the proposed bill moot, said County Commissioner Rachel Richards.
On Tuesday, she told the county board that she hopes to enlist DiSalvo, County Manager Jon Peacock and the head of the state patrol to join her in meeting with the carriers association.
“We need to have our case ready [for] talking to these motor carrier folks because we can count on them to bring in opposition if we can’t get them to a neutral place,” she said. Richards noted that the association fought a measure that mandates tire chains for semi trucks on Vail Pass.
Messages left with the president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association (CMCA) were not returned.
DiSalvo said Friday that he would be happy to attend such a meeting, though he said he hopes a state patrol representative can be there as well. Both law enforcement entities have to deal with tractor trailers on Independence Pass, a process that involves halting traffic in both directions, either making the trucks turn around or allowing them to proceed to Aspen or Twin Lakes, and writing tickets.
“It’s a pain in the neck,” DiSalvo said.
In an interview last week, Richards said she expects the CMCA to say that outreach to global-positioning and Internet mapping companies, along with educational efforts aimed at trucking dispatch firms, will be more effective than higher fines.
But Richards said she believes that past efforts by the carriers association to address the problem, spurred on by overtures from the Colorado Department of Transportation, were fruitless.
CDOT’s Region 3 transportation director, David Eller, said Friday that his organization did reach out to CMCA last year. He said he wasn’t sure what the outcome was of CMCA’s efforts but believes it made a “good-faith effort” to try to change the behavior of truckers and their dispatchers.
Richards said that, in general, the CMCA hates “the idea of increased fines or anything that sets a precedent for fines in their industry.”
Asked if he believes that an agreement could be reached between Pitkin County officials and the trucking association, an accord that would take House Bill D off the table, Tyler said he did.
A sticking point could be on whether the proposed legislation involves a fine or additional points on a driver’s license that can lead to suspension, he said (the bill currently calls for two points to be added to a violator’s license). He predicted the CMCA would be more willing to accede to a bill that only calls for an additional fine.
Richards said the meeting could occur in early January, before the Legislature convenes.