Oregon's Department of Transportation is reminding drivers that the state's studded tire season has ended. Drivers caught using the devices could face a fine. That's because studded tires - while good in the snow - aren't good for roads. ODOT estimates studded tires cause as as much $50 million damage each year. That has some lawmakers in Salem pushing legislation that would require those who use the tires to help cover the costs. David Nogueras reports.
Now, if you just moved to the region from say, Hawaii or Ecuador, and you don't know what we're talking about, studded tires look a lot like normal tires from a distance. But get a little closer and you'll see these little metal protruding pins. These are the studs. They're only slightly larger than the tip of a ballpoint pen. And there's no mistaking the sound these tires make out on the road.
In Bend, about a dozen people are lined up outside this Les Schwab Tire Center. It's cold outside. The sun won't come up for another half hour or so. But Terry Cubero wants to make sure she gets her tires off before the deadline.
She jokes that if studs were ever outlawed in Oregon, she might have to just quit driving in the winter. "You wouldn't want to meet me on the road without studs in the ice and snow. I need to be as safe as I can."
Democratic State Rep. Mitch Greenlick, who represents a district that stretches from Northwest Portland out into Washington County, acknowledges that some people are concerned about the damage these tires can cause.
"There's strong sentiment to ban the use of studded tires. I think that's an inappropriate thing, because I think there are people who believe they need studded tires and I think they ought to have a right to have studded tires," he says. "But on the other hand I think they ought to be prepared to pay their fair share of the effect that those studded tires have on the road."
Greenlick is sponsoring two of the three bills this session that deal with studded tires. One would force drivers to pay a fee of $10 per tire at the point of sale. A similar bill introduced by Democrat Brad Witt also sets a fee, but doesn't specify how much it would cost.
Greenlick's other bill would require studded tire users to buy a yearly permit. He says the cost of that permit would be tied to recurring damage estimates prepared by ODOT.
"The hope is once you put this permit system into place there will fewer and fewer people using studded tires and therefore less and less damage on the road," Greenlick says.
The House Transportation committee held a hearing on all three bills this month. Few dispute that studded tires are contributing to the degradation of Oregon roads. But what's known about the extent of that damage is less clear.
For example, the latest ODOT study on the topic is more than a decade old. And currently, the agency can't say how many sets of studded tires are actually being used in the state.
Highway Division administrator Paul Mather testified on behalf of ODOT. He pointed out that roads have an expected life span. And on Oregon's less traveled roads damage from studded tires isn't significant enough to to warrant premature replacement.
"There are many roads we use studded tires on because the volumes are so low typically that road wears out sooner for other reasons before studded tires," Mather said, while testifying.
Mather went on to say that in some instances, early road replacement brought on by stud damage is more prevalent in Western Oregon, particularly in the Portland Metro region, than it is in the Eastern part of the state.
That idea lead Republican Representative Cliff Bentz of Ontario to ask this question of the bills' sponsors about what constitutes one's fair share: "I believe your theme is your studs are wearing down our road therefore you must pay. If that's not the case because we don't have the volume of traffic, then what do you guys think we should do about that obvious inequity?"
Representative Greenlick says that's one of the reasons why ODOT needs to do a study. One way to solve such a problem he says would be to implement a permitting system based on zones rather than a flat fee.
Still, Greenlick admits both of his bills are facing an uphill climb in the Transportation Committee. "I've been assured by the committee that neither of those bills as currently written are going to get out."
So Greenlick's planning a course correction. He says he'll amend one of his bills to direct ODOT to conduct a new study. He thinks having fresh data would go along way toward getting something passed in the next session. As a state agency, ODOT doesn't take an official position on this or any legislation. But it does encourage drivers to consider using chains or non-studded traction tires, which cause less damage.
This story originally appeared on Oregon Public Broadcasting.