Legislature(2005 - 2006)BUTROVICH 205

02/09/2006 01:30 PM TRANSPORTATION

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Audio Topic
01:35:58 PM Start
01:36:40 PM SB261
02:43:17 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
          SB 261-REGULATION OF HWYS; TRAFFIC OFFENSES                                                                       
CHAIR CHARLIE HUGGINS announced SB 261 to be up for                                                                             
JEFF OTTESEN, Director, Division of Program Development,                                                                        
Department of Transportation and Public Facilities (DOTPF),                                                                     
explained that this  bill was triggered by a spate  of very high-                                                               
visibility accidents  and some  weather events.  The idea  was to                                                               
look for a  way to keep numbers of accidents  down. The tool they                                                               
found was to  declare certain sections of road  a safety corridor                                                               
and to double the fines in them.                                                                                                
SENATOR  COWDERY asked  if the  department  could place  concrete                                                               
dividers on  the highways so  cars can't  jump to the  other side                                                               
and if federal funds would be available for such a project.                                                                     
1:38:53 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT joined the committee.                                                                                        
MR. OTTESEN replied  that was a good suggestion, but  most of the                                                               
highways  are two  lanes that  are used  by permitted  wide loads                                                               
that need to have the extra width.                                                                                              
SENATOR  FRENCH   commented  that  the  classic   Seward  Highway                                                               
accident is  someone drifting into on-coming  traffic and killing                                                               
folks his age.                                                                                                                  
MR.  OTTESEN  said  other  states   have  crafted  language  with                                                               
criteria  that would  be used  to  make the  findings for  safety                                                               
zones and he  asked the chair to hold the  bill so the department                                                               
could do further  work on the matter. The department  does a good                                                               
job of using safety data  to prioritize and schedule projects and                                                               
national  statistics  show  the  predominant  factor  in  traffic                                                               
accidents is generally the human factor.                                                                                        
CHAIR  HUGGINS agreed  and pointed  out  that at  some point  the                                                               
department would need money to implement their policies.                                                                        
SENATOR  THERRIAULT said  that Virginia  lawmakers set  a maximum                                                               
dollar-specific fine  at $500. They  reasoned that a  sign saying                                                               
"double fines"  could be not  as effective as a  specified amount                                                               
since most  people are  unaware of what  the double  amount would                                                               
MR.  OTTESEN  replied  that  was  a  good  idea.  He  added  that                                                               
Washington  State actually  posts  the dollar  amount of  certain                                                               
fines on the sign.                                                                                                              
SENATOR COWDERY  said the legislature  should make it  tougher on                                                               
people who drive after losing their driver's license.                                                                           
MR. OTTESEN agreed that DUI offenders often repeat-offend.                                                                      
1:47:23 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGGINS  asked how safety issues  are identified especially                                                               
with  regards to  the  areas identified  today  that have  safety                                                               
KURT  SMITH, State  Traffic and  Safety  Engineer, Department  of                                                               
Transportation and  Public Facilities (DOTPF), answered  that the                                                               
department uses  "the hard  side" and  "the soft  side" approach.                                                               
The  hard   side  is   infrastructure  improvements,   which  are                                                               
addressed by  the Highway Safety  Improvement Program  (HSIP) and                                                               
the  soft   side  deals  with   enforcement  and   education.  He                                                               
     With the  HSIP, every year  we go  out and we  look for                                                                    
     high crash  locations and we  figure out  whether there                                                                    
     are  counter measures  that work  and basically  figure                                                                    
     out  that we  can  save  this many  lives  - this  many                                                                    
     injuries - what dollars do  that - compared to the cost                                                                    
     of construction  - figure  out a  benefit cost  ratio -                                                                    
     come up with a list  that's prioritized and we fund the                                                                    
     top projects of this list.                                                                                                 
SENATOR  THERRIAULT  asked  if the  funding  comes  from  regular                                                               
capital appropriations or  out of the safety fund  where he wants                                                               
to direct 50 percent of these funds.                                                                                            
MR.  OTTESEN replied  that the  department receives  safety funds                                                               
directly  from  the  Federal   Highway  Administration  that  are                                                               
designated  for  the HSIP.  Dollars  are  taken out,  though,  if                                                               
safety  laws are  not up  to  federal standard.  Those funds  are                                                               
directed  back to  the department  through  the National  Highway                                                               
Traffic Safety  Administration (NHTSA) and are  partially used on                                                               
the   soft   side   and   for   implementation   of   engineering                                                               
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked if  he used  a flat  fee for  signing a                                                               
stretch of highway.                                                                                                             
MR.  SMITH  responded  that  the   estimates  vary  depending  on                                                               
particular conditions in a zone.                                                                                                
1:50:37 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  THERRIAULT   commented  that  the  fiscal   note  didn't                                                               
indicate how much money the fines would bring in.                                                                               
CHAIR  HUGGINS  pointed out  that  this  is  not just  a  revenue                                                               
generator, but a safety mechanism.                                                                                              
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked why the  funding has to be  directed to                                                               
two different  funding mechanisms  for stretches of  highway that                                                               
don't meet certain criteria.                                                                                                    
MR. OTTESEN answered  because some of Alaska's  safety laws don't                                                               
meet  federal criterion,  one of  them being  the open  container                                                               
law. He said that 3 percent  of the state's federal highway funds                                                               
are taken  back because of those  defects and then given  back as                                                               
safety dollars.                                                                                                                 
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked if  Alaska has  double fines  in school                                                               
MR. OTTESEN replied that only work zones have double fines.                                                                     
SENATOR  FRENCH asked  if  a standard  would  be established  for                                                               
signage and if  using portable speed read-outs  was a possibility                                                               
so  people can  see  how fast  they are  going  as they  progress                                                               
through a zone. He asked  if the department would consider adding                                                               
a trooper - "Because signs without a trooper are just signs...."                                                                
1:54:53 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. SMITH  replied that  sign frequency would  be dealt  with the                                                               
same as  double-fine signs.  Every place that  has a  speed limit                                                               
would have a  double-fine safety zone sign  incorporated with the                                                               
speed limit information. Using speed  read-outs is a good idea as                                                               
well as  linking the creation  of a safety traffic  corridor with                                                               
committing  resources  for  a  trooper  to  be  during  increased                                                               
traffic times.                                                                                                                  
MR.  OTTESEN agreed  and  related  that was  done  on the  Seward                                                               
SENATOR FRENCH  remarked that adding  safety measures to  an area                                                               
of highway  is enormously expensive,  but adding two  troopers on                                                               
that highway year-round  would probably be the  cheapest and most                                                               
effect way to reduce the number of accidents.                                                                                   
MR. OTTESEN responded  that the Alaska Highway  Safety Office had                                                               
a  concentrated  program  in  the  past  two  years  to  increase                                                               
education about  DWIs, speeding and reckless  driving and coupled                                                               
that with  key enforcement  strategies. It  drove down  the fatal                                                               
accident rate  from 92 to 100  per year to the  lowest in decades                                                               
and certainly the lowest when measured against total traffic.                                                                   
1:57:54 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  THERRIAULT noted  that the  state of  Oregon's selection                                                               
criterion uses  a three-year average  of vehicle  collisions that                                                               
are 110  percent above the  three-year state average  for similar                                                               
types of  highways. A priority for  local state police is  to add                                                               
at least  50 extra  hours of enforcement  per month.  Oregon also                                                               
has a  process for decommissioning  those areas and he  asked Mr.                                                               
Smith if he had considered that in Alaska.                                                                                      
MR.  SMITH  replied that  decommissioning  had  not been  thought                                                               
through. He speculated  that the trouble is if  a safety corridor                                                               
proves effective  and then it  gets eliminated, accidents  may go                                                               
back up. Physical improvements would  likely last after the signs                                                               
were removed.                                                                                                                   
SENATOR  THERRIAULT asked  what  the justification  would be  for                                                               
keeping double fines if people  started using other roads and the                                                               
usage and number of accidents went down.                                                                                        
MR.  SMITH replied  that the  roads they  are talking  about will                                                               
probably  not have  alternate routes  and he  doubted that  usage                                                               
would change  very much, but  the justification would be  to save                                                               
lives. "That's the quandary."                                                                                                   
SENATOR THERRIAULT  reasoned that concept would  justify doubling                                                               
fines on every road.                                                                                                            
2:01:27 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  SMITH  replied  that  the  roads  would  initially  have  to                                                               
indicate a high accident rate above a set threshold.                                                                            
CHAIR HUGGINS asked if a  municipality could raise fines in other                                                               
zones, like school zones.                                                                                                       
MR. SMITH replied that he did not know for sure.                                                                                
CHAIR  HUGGINS  expressed  support   for  a  program  that  would                                                               
forecast  unsafe   areas.  He  heard  the   commissioner  of  the                                                               
Department of  Public Safety say on  a TV program that  the Parks                                                               
Highway is  the most dangerous zone  and asked how long  that was                                                               
2:04:59 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. SMITH replied that he  didn't know that was necessarily true.                                                               
Crash data has a  lot of variables and can be looked  at a lot of                                                               
different ways.                                                                                                                 
CHAIR   HUGGINS  expressed   that   he  would   support  a   more                                                               
comprehensive bill.                                                                                                             
MR. OTTESEN commented that he  would like a bill that reevaluated                                                               
the results of the safety area every two years or so.                                                                           
2:08:24 PM                                                                                                                    
LIEUTENANT JAMES  HELGOE, Alaska State Troopers,  stated that the                                                               
Department of  Public Safety (DPS)  supported SB 261,  because it                                                               
would act  as a deterrent  for speeders. He related  that several                                                               
other states  decommission safety  areas once the  desired effect                                                               
has  been  reached and  he  favored  that concept,  because  then                                                               
simple  speeders  aren't  continuing  to be  penalized  when  the                                                               
desired effect of making the road safer has been reached.                                                                       
2:10:52 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGGINS  asked who has  the lead responsible for  safety on                                                               
the Seward Highway between the Girdwood and Anchorage.                                                                          
LIEUTENANT  HELGOE  replied  that  the  state  troopers  who  are                                                               
stationed  in  Girdwood  are  responsible  for  that  stretch  of                                                               
highway.  The Anchorage  Police Department  takes over  at McHugh                                                               
CHAIR HUGGINS asked  what he thought would work  besides a police                                                               
presence on the road.                                                                                                           
LIEUTENANT HELGOE replied  that he felt that most  people want to                                                               
do the right  things for the right reasons and  a media campaign,                                                               
signs posted  along the highway and  just encouragement statewide                                                               
from enforcement would  remind people to comply.  Over 7,000 cars                                                               
a day drive between Girdwood and Anchorage.                                                                                     
2:13:51 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGGINS asked  how the state troopers  receive DOTPF safety                                                               
LIEUTENANT  HELGOE answered  that he  gets statistics  from Cindy                                                               
Cashen.  If  they  identify  an area  of  concern,  officers  are                                                               
offered overtime to patrol the area.                                                                                            
2:15:46 PM                                                                                                                    
LIEUTENANT HELGOE  said he just became  legislative liaison after                                                               
spending 12 years on the road.                                                                                                  
CHAIR HUGGINS asked  him what his number one challenge  is as the                                                               
department liaison.                                                                                                             
LIEUTENANT HELGOE  replied just getting the  information right to                                                               
the  legislature.  For  example,  he  had  reviewed  the  Wasilla                                                               
statistics and found  a misunderstanding about it  being the most                                                               
dangerous section  of highway.  Other roads  are in  that section                                                               
and not  all 35 of the  traffic fatalities occurred on  the Parks                                                               
Highway. He said his goal is to improve public safety.                                                                          
CHAIR HUGGINS asked  what percentage of people  in accidents were                                                               
under the influence.                                                                                                            
LIEUTENANT HELGOE guessed about 20-30 percent.                                                                                  
2:19:29 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGGINS asked what he thought the bill was overlooking.                                                                   
LIEUTENANT HELGOE replied that  federal regulations cover placing                                                               
of concrete dividers,  but the problem with  concrete dividers is                                                               
that  when  people drive  slowly,  they  slow everyone  down  and                                                               
summer traffic  builds up with  RVs and vehicles with  people who                                                               
want  to go  fishing  -  or an  emergency  vehicle  needs to  get                                                               
somewhere.  Access on  the  roadway should  not  be limited,  but                                                               
folks need to drive responsibly and obey the speed limit.                                                                       
CHAIR  HUGGINS asked  if  a  half dozen  safety  zones popped  up                                                               
around the  state requiring from 2  to 5 troopers, what  would be                                                               
the implication on the workforce.                                                                                               
LIEUTENANT  HELGOE replied  that  it would  be  difficult to  say                                                               
without knowing the area they are talking about.                                                                                
2:21:51 PM                                                                                                                    
CINDY  CASHEN, Administrator,  Highway Safety  Office, Department                                                               
of  Transportation and  Public  Facilities  (DOTPF), agreed  with                                                               
Lieutenant  Helgoe. Currently  one  DUI patrol  is funded;  their                                                               
special  duty is  to guard  the corridor  between Fairbanks  into                                                               
Kenai.  They  would  like  to  triple that  number  and  DPS  has                                                               
responded favorably.  These positions would  be on top of  the 45                                                               
currently empty positions.                                                                                                      
2:23:44 PM                                                                                                                    
DOUG  WOOLIVER,  Administrative  Attorney, Alaska  Court  System,                                                               
expressed  concern  about  how  the  old  computer  system  can't                                                               
distinguish between funds. However, he  said the Court System has                                                               
a new computer  system in Anchorage, Fairbanks  and Palmer, which                                                               
can account  for a whole variety  of different funds. He  said he                                                               
would work  with the DOT  to come up  with good language  on that                                                               
2:25:47 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  HUGGINS asked  what the  process  is when  someone gets  a                                                               
MR. WOOLIVER  explained that most  tickets can just be  mailed in                                                               
with money attached,  but a court appearance is  required above a                                                               
certain speed.                                                                                                                  
2:27:29 PM                                                                                                                    
RON   MARTINDALE,  Highway   Safety   Improvement  Program,   DOT                                                               
Anchorage, said  he was trying to  figure out how to  develop the                                                               
CHAIR HUGGINS asked  him to give a thumbnail  sketch of proactive                                                               
things the department had done in the last 36 months.                                                                           
MR.  MARTINDALE replied  that the  department's  data system  can                                                               
track and identify  probable locations a lot  better than before.                                                               
For  instance,  his  region  alone  has  a  $13  million  program                                                               
representing about 32 individual  project locations that were all                                                               
identified with their database of crashes.                                                                                      
2:30:58 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  SMITH  said  he  manages  the HSIP  website  that  has  that                                                               
SENATOR  FRENCH asked  if he  tracks accidents  in the  Anchorage                                                               
area - for example at the intersection of Tudor and Minnesota.                                                                  
MR. SMITH  replied yes and that  HSIP covers all public  roads in                                                               
the state.                                                                                                                      
MR. MARTINDALE  explained that the DOTPF  crash database contains                                                               
every  reported  crash  by  every  police  agency  in  the  state                                                               
including  all  the  self-report  forms  for  those  that  aren't                                                               
investigated by  police. The municipality  gets its  data quicker                                                               
because it gets information directly from the police department.                                                                
MR. OTTESEN interjected that HSIP  data follows a very circuitous                                                               
process before it gets to DOTPF,  which is the last recipient and                                                               
comes in all at once in a rush.                                                                                                 
2:37:04 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. OTTESEN  said on the issue  of the gap between  project needs                                                               
and funding that for one region  alone he received a list of $600                                                               
million  dollars  worth  of  projects that  are  "really  on  the                                                               
boards" and he  anticipated needing funding for them  in the next                                                               
couple of years. He emphasized  that figure is $600 million above                                                               
current  funding  levels. On  top  of  that, the  Seward  Highway                                                               
widening  project  of  $300  million  and  the  Seward  to  Glenn                                                               
connection project that are being  talked about in the long-range                                                               
transportation plan in  Anchorage, adds up to  another $1 billion                                                               
dollars.  This  does  not  take into  account  other  regions  in                                                               
Alaska. The bottom  line is that many competing  concerns are not                                                               
being addressed.                                                                                                                
2:38:50 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGGINS  asked if safety indicators  influenced the program                                                               
allocation of assets.                                                                                                           
MR. OTTESEN replied that the  inherent nature of the HSIP program                                                               
is that it  is reactive. He explained that  fatalities are valued                                                               
at  $2  million and  a  fender-bender  is  valued at  $2,000  for                                                               
statistic purposes and  in that sense they are  reacting to data.                                                               
He supported  being more proactive  and suggested  using citation                                                               
data that shows how people  are behaving. One software program is                                                               
being used in 15 to 18 other  states and Alaska is now looking at                                                               
2:41:33 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR HUGGINS asked how data on specific accidents can be found.                                                                
MR.  SMITH replied  that he  would have  to go  into the  highway                                                               
analysis database. He informed the  committee that the department                                                               
is working  on a  geographic information  system that  will allow                                                               
people to draw up data from a map.                                                                                              
CHAIR HUGGINS  said that  he didn't mean  to belabor  this issue,                                                               
but he wanted to  work on it and make it  come full circle. There                                                               
being  no  further business  to  come  before the  committee,  he                                                               
adjourned the meeting at 2:43:17 PM.                                                                                          

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