annual road damage on studded tire use.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)
Studded tires have been a thorn in the Oregon Department of Transportation’s side for many years. And it’s no surprise why. As federal funding and gas tax revenue fall off a cliff, the agency is struggling to pay its bills. Meanwhile those little spikes used by many Oregonians at the first hint of cold weather cause an estimated $50-60 million in damage each year. Now, 15 years after they first looked into the issue, ODOT has launched a new effort to learn more about how many people use studded tires and exactly how much damage they do.
Billed as the “2014 Studded Tire Study” in an official announcement today (PDF), the study is the result of the 2013 legislative session. In that session, a bill that would have tacked on a fee for using the studded tires didn’t pass because legislators (cajoled by lobbyists, see below) felt more recent data was needed before making a decision. ODOT is also asking for public input and “recommendations for additional questions” to help create a phone survey. (Comments are being accepted throughout this month and can be emailed to Norris Shipping at email@example.com.)
We’ve reported on studded tires several times in the past here on the Front Page. Back in 2010, as a citizen-led initiative effort to ban them began in earnest, we explained what studded tires have to do with bicycling in Oregon. In a nutshell, the millions of dollars ODOT spends repairing roads damaged by studded tires could be spent on more important things: like projects that would improve bicycling. Beyond budgetary concerns, studded tires cause ruts and bumps that lead to unpleasant bicycling conditions.
With this new study, ODOT hopes to find out how many Oregonians use studded tires and get a more precise estimate on how much damage those tires are doing to the roads. The study will also examine existing information on new options to studded tires that weren’t on the market when ODOT last looked into the issue in 2000.
The study is expected to be completed in the fall of 2014. Hopefully, it will lead to policy solutions and potential regulations that will decrease the use of studded tires, raise new transportation revenue and bring the agency much-needed cost savings.
UPDATE, 2/13 at 8:39 am: I failed to mention it in the original story, but according to Jeff Bernards of Preserving Oregon Roads this study is a direct result of strong lobbying of legislators paid for by Les Schwab Tire Centers. They allegedly convinced lawmakers to study the issue instead of passing a bill that would have created a studded tire permit fee.