Legislature(1995 - 1996)

03/21/1996 09:20 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
txt
                                                                               
  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.                                                      
                                                                               

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