Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/21/1996 09:20 AM FIN
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SPONSOR SUBSTITUTE FOR SENATE BILL NO. 181 An Act relating to the promotion of Alaska businesses through signs, displays, and devices within or adjacent to highway rights-of-way, to municipal regulation of directional signs, displays, and devices, and to penalties for violations related to outdoor advertising. BRETT HUBER, aide to Senator Green, came before committee. Directing attention to CSSSSB 181 (STA), he explained that the bill would establish the Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities tourist oriented directional signs (TODS) program in statute and allow placement of signs on private property outside of the right-of-way. Codification of the program will provide for a well-planned and regulated system of directional signs to benefit visitors and businesses that serve them. The department presently administers TODS as an experimental program consistent with standards established by FHA and the manual of uniform traffic control devices. The absence of statutory authorization for the program has left the public out of the regulatory process. Statutory enactment would provide firm legal footing for the program to continue. Opinion from legislative counsel suggests that without statutory standing the program would be unlikely to withstand judicial challenge. Private property placement of uniform (18" x 90") directional signs would allow establishments a limited, strictly controlled opportunity to direct clientele. Stringent guidelines (more strict than federal law allows) and requirements for individual application and approval offer ample opportunity for the state to maintain roadway view sheds. As evidenced by signatures of visitors gathered by campground owners, tourists seek more adequate directional signs. Mr. Huber directed attention to additional material from the Federal Highway Administration and noted that it highlights concerns regarding language within the bill. Referencing FHA indications that TODS signs may only be placed in the right-of-way, Mr. Huber advised of the sponsor's intent to develop a uniform program allowed by Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities and approved on a case-by-case basis to give businesses an opportunity to provide directional signs while maintaining state control of roadway appearance. Mr. Huber then voiced his understanding that directional signs outlined in the bill would be allowed under federal guidelines but would be under a different program than TODS. The second concern raised by FHA relates to sign dimensions. Mr. Huber referenced information stating that signs should not exceed seventy-two inches in width. The current TODS program allows for ninety-inch signs. Mr. Huber asked that the committee assist in developing language to remedy federal concerns and to satisfy business needs. BOB RUBY, Division Administrator, Alaska Division, Federal Highway Administration, came before committee accompanied by JIM BRYSON, Division Right-of-Way Officer, Federal Highway Administration. Mr. Ruby directed attention to a handout (copy on file in the Senate Finance file for SB 181) and advised that it contains: 1. An overview relating to outdoor advertising 2. Umbrella law (outdoor advertising) 3. Information on "on-premise" signs 4. Requirements for the TODS program. 5. General comments on SB 181 In response to questions by Co-chairman Halford relating to sign dimensions, Mr. Ruby acknowledged that TODS was established as an experimental program. In an attempt to be as flexible as possible, "the ninety inches was accepted at that time." That is not considered a significant issue and would not be considered a fatal flaw. Federal law covers all fifty states. The administration has authority at the state level to make reasonable adjustments for unique conditions. Brief discussion occurred between Co-chairman Halford and Co-chairman Frank regarding prior billboard legislation that failed to become law. Further comments followed regarding sign requirements for commercial/industrial areas. Referencing the above-noted information regarding outdoor advertising, Mr. Ruby acknowledged that Alaska law is more severe than federal law in that federal law allows for commercial/industrial areas. Aside from that, one cannot have signs in rural areas or beyond the right-of-way. The problem with the proposed bill is the private property allowance. TODS signs and motorist information signs are considered official signs and formatted in accordance with MUTCD. All directional and official signs must be located within the highway right-of-way so that there is proper control over the signs. Senator Randy Phillips asked if there is an official size for such signs. Mr. Ruby responded affirmatively, saying that all official signs for the traveler (gas, food, lodging) or tourist oriented destination signs have restrictions as far as size, placement, number, location within the highway right-of-way, etc. There is little state control of signs on private property outside of the right- of-way. Senator Rieger directed attention to language in his proposed amendment: The program must allow the department to maintain control over the location of signs, and the department must control the location of signs in a manner which maintains the quality of scenic areas. He advised that the language should be inserted in the "heart of the bill" which describes the sign program. Co-chairman Halford asked if the foregoing language meets control requirements. Mr. Ruby stressed that official signs must be located within physical right-of-way limits. Co- chairman Frank attested to the fact that the Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities maintains control outside of the right-of-way. He advised that he had placed a sign outside of the right-of-way, on private property, and was told to take it down. In response to a suggestion from Co-chairman Frank that two parallel programs be developed, Mr. Ruby said that federal regulations do not apply to zoned, commercial/industrial areas. The Co-chairman then suggested that the state could have a program, existing outside of the right-of-way but limited to size restrictions, which would mirror the TODS program in zoned, commercial/industrial areas. END: SFC-96, #45, Side 1 BEGIN: SFC-96, #45, Side 2 Discussion occurred between Senator Zharoff and Mr. Ruby regarding civic organization signs. Mr. Bryson explained that they are considered official and directional signs under outdoor advertising laws and regulations. They are legitimately erected off-right-of-way signs relating to public-interest, nonprofit groups. Mr. Ruby acknowledged that one problem relates to the fact that state law is much more restrictive than federal law in commercial/industrial areas where signs are expected. That has generated some of the controversy. Discussion followed between Senator Rieger and Mr. Ruby and Mr. Bryson regarding signs along the Glenn Highway. Mr. Bryson said that if state legislation enabled signs to be erected in unzoned commercial/industrial zones, a specific definition would have to be developed. The erection of signs would then have to comply with the definition of "unzoned commercial" within the state of Alaska. Mr. Ruby acknowledged that, because of the wide right-of-way in Alaska, when a sign is placed on private property outside of the highway right-of-way, it is too far from the line of sight to be seen. Many property owners thus place signs in the right-of-way and are subsequently asked to remove them. To address the issue, the federal government developed a program unique to Alaska. It allows property owners to lease highway right-of-way from the state and place signs immediately adjacent to property in areas where they are visible and safe from collisions. The federal government has tried to address individual issues in rural areas of Alaska. Mr. Ruby voiced his understanding that the approach is working satisfactorily but acknowledged room for improvements and suggestions. Senator Rieger referenced the handout from Mr. Ruby and requested a definition of "an unzoned commercial or industrial zone." Mr. Ruby explained that a single entity does not constitute a commercial area. It is merely a business located along the road. A series of businesses along a strip creates a commercial or industrial area. Senator Rieger cited an example of a number of road houses located in close proximity. Mr. Ruby said that, on request, the FHA could make a site-specific evaluation and a clear determination. Co-chairman Frank voiced need to accommodate federal restrictions within the proposed bill. He then suggested that the sponsor be asked to develop a committee substitute that allows for directional signs in commercial and industrial areas. While those signs would be limited to specific size, they would not be restricted to location within the right-of-way. For areas other than commercial and industrial, the existing TODS program would prevail and location of signs would be within the right-of-way. Further discussion followed among members citing sign situations at Tok, the Glenn Highway, and the Seward Highway. Senator Zharoff inquired regarding the federal definition of a rural road. Mr. Ruby answered, "Something outside of a built-up city, town, village." Unincorporated villages and small communities are considered commercial areas for sign purposes. He advised that he would produce a definition for "rural." SAM KITO III, Legislative Liaison/Special Assistant, Dept. of Transportation and Public Facilities, came before committee in opposition to SSSB 181. He pointed to difficulties associated with enforcement of sign restrictions for signs located outside of the right-of-way. At the present time, these signs are easily identified as illegal signs. A specific category of such signs would make enforcement against illegal signs difficult. Further, proposed decrease of the penalty from a misdemeanor to a violation will leave the state no recourse in instances of repeat offenders. Co-chairman Halford asked if the department was opposed to all signs outside of the right-of- way. Mr. Kito attested to concern regarding placement of signs from both a legal enforcement and aesthetic standpoint. Co-chairman Frank questioned concern in commercial and industrial areas, given size restrictions. Mr. Kito cited Wasilla and Soldotna as examples of local control of signage outside of the right-of-way. He noted the proliferation of signs and spoke to resulting confusion for motorists. Both Co-chairmen took exception to Mr. Kito's comments. They said that feedback from visitors indicates Alaska lacks sufficient directional signs. RICK BARRIER, President, Alaska Campgrounds Owners' Association, next spoke via teleconference from Anchorage. He advised that the association consists of 70 to 80 campground owners and "over 100 other associate members . . . primarily along the highway system." Mr. Barrier voiced association support for the legislation and cited safety issues relating to proper advance notice of sites for visitors driving large campers. The bill would enable business owners to do a better job of informing the public of their locations without deteriorating "the public image." DANIEL STROUSE, R/V park owner, Palmer, Alaska, next testified from Palmer. He observed that after eight years in the business, the number one visitor complaint is lack of tourist-related signs. The second most often asked question is "Where are your route sign numbers." Mr. Strouse stressed that many of Alaska's tourists are elderly visitors driving large "eighteen wheelers." It is difficult for them to anticipate need to stop when a business is only allowed an entrance sign. Visitors have constantly remarked on need to improve signage. Mr. Strouse further attested to complaints from visitors that when they see a viewpoint sign and pull over, they are confronted with "nothing but cottonwood trees and overflowing trash cans." Further, Mr. Strouse noted that his campground is across the road from a state recreation area. There are two, huge signs announcing the entrance to the state park while Mr. Strouse is denied opportunity to give advance notice of his private park. Referencing Mr. Strouse's comment regarding lack of route numbers, Co-chairman Halford noted that Alaska has so few highways that it names rather than numbers them. Mr. Stouse stressed that while that is known by Alaskans, it is new to visitors who are "nervous when they can't find a route sign." The Milepost is "almost useless anymore because there are relatively few mileposts left on the highway." RED STARR, R/V park owner, next testified from Palmer. He attested to the two-and-a-half-year effort involved in procuring TODS along the Old Glenn Highway. While those signs are working, there is still need for additional signage. TODS are small and located at intersections. There is no effective advance sign. Mr. Starr referenced his prior conversation with Mr. Ruby regarding placement of signs on commercial property as well as comments by the state that such signs would lead to loss of federal highway funding. It appears obvious from discussion with FHA personnel that the state has been using federal requirements and loss of federal funding as "a scapegoat" to allow DOTPF to do "whatever they wanted to." Mr. Starr stressed need for a cooperative effort. He then commented further on size restriction on signs, suggesting that even larger signs than presently allowed would not obstruct most views. Co-chairman Halford asked that Co-chairman Frank work with the sponsor in development of a committee substitute for the bill. He then directed that it be held in committee pending receipt of a new draft.