December 19, 2008 in Idaho, Region

New chain-up law working on Lookout Pass

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A new law allowing Idaho to enforce mandatory chain-up requirements on commercial trucks on snowy North Idaho passes has made a big difference in the past week, officials say.

Prior to this year, Idaho had no chain requirements at all, and snowy spots like Lookout Pass on I-90 frequently were closed due to semi-truck spinouts that blocked the route.

“I don’t think we’ve been getting the calls for the jacknifed rigs like we have in previous years, not even close,” said Shoshone County Undersheriff Mitch Alexander. “So I think it’s working.” He added, “It’s always a nice thing when you see something work, you know.”

The wild winter weather of the past week marked the first time Idaho’s new law was invoked. It applies only to big, interstate trucks on three mountain passes: Lookout and Fourth of July passes on I-90, and Lolo Pass on Highway 12.

“It’s got to be a big help,” said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who sponsored the bill in the Legislature this year. “Just having the notice, the sign flashing at the bottom of the hill saying, ‘Chains required for commercial vehicles’ heightens the awareness about how bad the roads are, and makes people think twice about how fast they’re going.”

Broadsword, who was snowed in at home for 24 hours before finally venturing out today, said, “I am glad we got the bill passed - I think it ‘s a great step in the right direction.”

Montana, Washington and Oregon long have had mandatory chain-up laws, but the Idaho Legislature repeatedly rejected the idea. Then, Broadsword this year proposed a narrowly crafted bill, applying only to interstate commercial trucks and only to the three North Idaho mountain passes. Other spots around the state have similar problems, but the Idaho State Police said the three passes were the only ones that already had sufficient areas for truck chain-up pullouts and signage.

Broadsword’s bill, which was backed by the Shoshone County Sheriff’s Department and the Idaho State Police, passed both houses of the Legislature on unanimous votes and took effect July 1.

Alexander, who is the sheriff-elect in Shoshone County as well as the undersheriff, said, “I think the legislation was desperately needed. … From what I’ve seen out there, a lot more trucks are chaining up.”

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