By Joel Warner
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Last winter, residents of the Vail subdivision Booth Creek, fed up with diesel fumes filling their homes, demanded that the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) close a nearby truck chain-up station on Interstate 70.
"The Vail Valley is so narrow, the homes in Booth Creek filled up with exhaust," says Kit Williams, a leader of the residents who were upset that the pull-off area was, in some instances, less than fifty feet from their back doors. "The diesel was so thick you could literally wipe it off the walls."
He and his neighbors held meetings, petitioned the town council and chased down CDOT officials in order to have the pull-off area removed. It was officially closed last spring.
But the issue has become a slippery slope for the trucking industry. Eastbound truckers now have to scramble for spots along I-70 to pull over and put their chains on before heading over Vail Pass, one of nature's favorite dumping grounds for snow.
In the wake of stepped-up efforts this winter to enforce the state's snow-chain law, CDOT created a second, temporary chain-up station farther away from Vail Pass. But Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, contends that the temporary station is situated too far from where the snow is. "If you drive a long distance on wet or dry pavement, the chains will break," he explains. "They're very expensive. It's also hard on the highway."
As Don Digby, vice-president of operations for the Colorado-based trucking company Navajo Express, puts it, "The state imposes laws and then takes away the facility for our drivers to put on their chains. It's like going to a rest stop where there's not a toilet."
There are plans for a new, permanent spot for truckers, but decisions weren't made in time to start construction before the snows began. A team of representatives from Vail, CDOT, law enforcement agencies and the trucking industry selected a location near the Vail Golf Course, two miles west of the old one and far removed from any houses.
The problems at Booth Creek made isolation a key to finding any new spot for the truckers. Williams says truckers used the area near his house not only to put snow chains on but also as an overnight rest stop. The truckers would leave their engines running all night due to the difficulty of restarting them in cold weather.
Williams adds that people in his neighborhood were "suffering from the symptoms of toxic diesel poisoning. We experienced headaches, nausea, burning eyes, sore throats, sinus infections, coughing, sneezing and eventually sleep deprivation. People who had been in this neighborhood for years had never suffered any of those symptoms before."
That experience convinced officials to proceed cautiously with plans for a new permanent spot for the truckers. In the meantime, most truckers continue to pull over anywhere they can on the highway shoulder.
Digby points out that there is room enough in the temporary pull-off area for only three or four rigs at a time--which means the 200 to 300 other trucks that travel that stretch of I-70 every hour are forced to find other spots to chain up.
"It's a dilemma, because we're sending out mixed messages," says Suzanne Silverthorne, spokeswoman for the Town of Vail. "We're trying to enforce the chain law, but the truckers don't have an adequate place to pull off the highway. It puts us in an awkward position."
Digby's more concerned with the truckers' precarious position of having to pull over on narrow shoulders to install chains. "It's a horrible, horrible option," he says. "But that's what the state has given us." His answer has been for Navajo Express's fleet to avoid I-70 altogether. But that, he argues, means longer routes and greater transportation costs, leading to higher costs of consumer goods.
Booth Creek residents don't care much where the trucks go, as long as they are not in their backyards. But the residents aren't totally satisfied: CDOT still has not completely removed the pull-out area. "They widened the road sixteen to eighteen feet to accommodate the pull-off stop," Williams says. "They were to remove the extensive amount of fill, and they just left it there. They also did not revegetate. So every time a car goes by, it stirs up dust, which still comes in our homes.