A tougher set of winter traction rules passed by state lawmakers this year didn’t stop some drivers from getting stuck and snarling traffic on Interstate 70 for several hours Wednesday and Thursday.
Colorado Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Inzeo said about 30 vehicles either got stuck or stopped on I-70 west of Morrison Wednesday night during a winter storm, prompting a lengthy closure.
About 90% of those vehicles weren’t in compliance with the new traction law, Inzeo said.
The State Patrol did not immediately write tickets to those drivers, he said. The priority was to get the interstate back open, a process that took several hours.
We could be writing dozens and dozens of passenger vehicle traction law tickets tonight. But too many clogging I-70 and US 285. Getting the plows and tow trucks in so we can get people to safety, and ambulances to Denver, is our priority tonight. S1 pic.twitter.com/F8yRPcBVJn— CSP Golden (@CSP_Golden) October 24, 2019
Due to accidents and slide offs, the state closed a westbound portion of the interstate starting at Morrison for seven hours, while the eastbound lanes were closed for four.
These are the type of closures state lawmakers were hoping to avoid when they passed a new law this year that requires all drivers to either have chains or adequate winter tires on the mountain stretch of I-70 from September to the end of May.
State Sen. Kerry Donovan, the sponsor of the traction law, said in April that when I-70 shuts down, it has a ripple effect.
“Shift workers from Leadville can’t get to Vail,” she said. “They miss their shift. They miss payday that day. Ski instructors can’t make it into communities to teach lessons. We can’t get deliveries.”
CDOT has been advertising the new law, using the electronic boards on I-70 to remind drivers of the rules. Drivers on I-25 also saw several warnings about the snow all day on Wednesday along with a message asking if their tires were ready for it.
Last month, CDOT officials said they were not going to install new checkpoints to enforce the new traction law this year.
CDOT’s highway maintenance director Kyle Lester said checkpoints have helped reduce accidents in other states, such as California.
But he said they also come with a downside.
“It’s easy to see 10 to 15-mile backups coming out of Sacramento” on the way to Donner Pass, he said of a mandatory checkpoint there.
CDOT did not rule out checkpoints in the future. But for now, officials say they will rely on education campaigns.