BOISE – Idaho will remain the only state in the West without mandatory winter tire-chain requirements – at least for one more year.
Lawmakers, truckers and the state Transportation Department weren’t able to reach an agreement on how to modify HB 188, so the bill was killed this week in the House Transportation Committee.
“I think it needs some work,” said Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, a member of the committee. “The way that bill was structured, I couldn’t support it.”
HB 188 would have allowed the Idaho Transportation Department to impose mandatory chain-up requirements whenever they’re needed on Idaho’s interstates or state highways, with two levels of severity. The first level would require chains only on commercial trucks. The second level would require them on all vehicles, except for all-wheel-drive vehicles.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, strongly opposed the bill.
“I still have my own issue regarding front-wheel drive cars that are equipped with four studded snow tires. Why aren’t they exempted when four-wheel-drives are?” he asked.
Nonini said he drives a Honda Accord with studded snow tires on snowy mountain passes, and it works just fine.
“I think we need a chain-up bill with regard to the trucking industry,” he said. “They’re the ones who spin out and close the roads. I believe that’s where the problem lies – not with the individual cars.”
The department said it needs chain-up requirements to keep from having to close roads blocked by accidents. That’s a frequent problem, particularly on heavily traveled, high mountain passes.
Mel Coulter, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department, said, “We’re not giving up – long term, we’re not giving up. … We do intend to bring it back in a new form in a new legislative session, probably in ‘06.”
He added, “We’re still committed to the idea that a chain-up law and chain-up restrictions are a good idea for motorist safety, because too often we see people who believe they’re capable of handling the conditions and whose cars are just not equipped. That creates not only problems and hazards for themselves, but others as well.”
After there were objections to the bill at an earlier committee hearing, the department met with the Idaho Trucking Association and the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho. Coulter said the department and the trucking groups agreed that more attention needs to be paid to the need for adequate chain-up areas for putting on and taking off chains; signage; funding to create and maintain chain-up areas; and assurances that trucks will not be required to run chains on dry pavement.
“We thought we had ironed out some of the differences that people had with the bill, and we were pretty confident that it was ready to proceed, but I think there were still some legislators who had some questions about the law as it was written,” Coulter said.
The department has identified four mountain passes as already ready for chain requirements, with adequate pullouts and plenty of winter-driving problems. They are Lookout and Fourth of July passes on Interstate 90, Lolo Pass on U.S. 12 and Sweetser Pass between southern Idaho and Salt Lake City.
Coulter said, “For the transportation department, it boils down to safety.”
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