Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 211

03/18/2009 01:30 PM JUDICIARY

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Audio Topic
01:34:34 PM Start
01:34:58 PM HJR17
01:38:20 PM Lonzo Henderson – Parole Board
01:48:29 PM James Christopher Brown - Judicial Conduct Commission
01:58:13 PM SB59
02:21:30 PM SB73
02:31:49 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
+ Confirmation Hearings: TELECONFERENCED
Parole Board
Judicial Conduct Commission
Heard & Held
Moved CSSB 73(JUD) Out of Committee
+ Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled TELECONFERENCED
Rescind Action & Moved SCS CSHJR 17(JUD)
                SB  59-LOW- SPEED MOTOR VEHICLES                                                                            
1:58:13 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH  announced the consideration  of SB 59.  [Before the                                                               
committee was CSSB 59 (TRA).]                                                                                                   
WESTON EILER,  Staff to  Senator Bert Stedman,  said SB  59 would                                                               
amend Alaska statute to allow  low-speed electric vehicles access                                                               
on certain  roads with a  posted speed limit  of 45 mph  or less.                                                               
rather than the current 35 mph. Federal regulation defines low-                                                                 
speed vehicles  as those that travel  no faster than 25  mph. The                                                               
bill  was drafted  to accommodate  the growing  use of  low-speed                                                               
vehicles  in small  communities by  expanding the  miles of  road                                                               
these vehicles can access. The  sponsor worked the DOT to address                                                               
some  of the  potential issues  that might  arise by  having low-                                                               
speed vehicles  in large urban areas.  As such the CS  limits the                                                               
expanded  access  to communities  with  a  maximum population  of                                                               
25,000 and not  connected by road to Anchorage  or Fairbanks. The                                                               
bill also includes an opt-in provision for communities.                                                                         
2:00:17 PM                                                                                                                    
The Department  of Transportation  estimates that the  bill would                                                               
open  an  additional  30  miles   of  road  in  Southeast  Alaska                                                               
communities to low-speed vehicles.  For example, the residents of                                                               
Wrangell could drive  low-speed vehicles to their  airport. SB 59                                                               
promotes  sustainable cost-effective  transportation  and at  the                                                               
same time allows local communities substantial flexibility.                                                                     
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI   asked  the  definition  of   a  low-speed                                                               
MR. EILER explained that they  are defined in federal regulation,                                                               
but  the gist  is that  they can  travel no  faster than  25 mph.                                                               
Because of their slow speed  they aren't required to have certain                                                               
safety features  such as airbags.  In response to a  question, he                                                               
said a Toyota hybrid is not a low-speed vehicle.                                                                                
2:01:52 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT asked if he  knows how many low-speed vehicles                                                               
are in  the state  because they  have to  be registered  with the                                                               
Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV).                                                                                               
MR.  EILER  said  yes  they  are  registered  with  DMV;  19  are                                                               
currently registered and there's a dealer in Petersburg.                                                                        
SENATOR THERRIAULT asked what crash-test standards they have.                                                                   
MR. EILER offered to provide that information.                                                                                  
CHAIR  FRENCH  noted  that  Mr.  Healy  with  the  Department  of                                                               
Transportation  and Public  Facilities (DOTPF)  and Mr.  Springer                                                               
with DMV are available to answer questions.                                                                                     
SENATOR THERRIAULT  asked if low-speed vehicles  could operate in                                                               
the core of  Fairbanks or Anchorage if the  communities wanted to                                                               
allow that.                                                                                                                     
MR. EILER said he believes that  by local ordinance they would be                                                               
allowed, but he would defer to the drafters.                                                                                    
2:04:06 PM                                                                                                                    
ROGER  HEALY, Chief  Engineer, Department  of Transportation  and                                                               
Public  Facilities (DOTPF),  explained that  the current  statute                                                               
allows low-speed vehicles on roadways  statewide that have posted                                                               
speed limits  of 35 mph  or less.  He further explained  that the                                                               
existing regulations allow a low-speed  vehicle to cross highways                                                               
with posted speed  limits of greater than 35 mph  if the crossing                                                               
is to  access another  highway that  is authorized  for low-speed                                                               
2:05:16 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT asked if the  senior population in the City of                                                               
North  Pole could  drive one  of  these vehicles  to the  grocery                                                               
store.  They would  not  get  on the  Richardson  Highway so  the                                                               
municipality could make the decision to opt in.                                                                                 
MR. HEALY said not in that  case because of the connection to the                                                               
Fairbanks and Anchorage road network.                                                                                           
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI  observed that low-speed vehicles  would not                                                               
be allowed in  Huston or Willow or Big Lake  for the same reason.                                                               
They're connected to the Fairbanks and Anchorage road network.                                                                  
MR. HEALY said that's correct.                                                                                                  
SENATOR WIELECHOWSKI asked what  low-speed vehicles are typically                                                               
used for.                                                                                                                       
MR. HEALY said  he understands they are used  for short point-to-                                                               
point trips such as from home to the store and back.                                                                            
SENATOR  WIELECHOWSKI asked  the  rational  behind the  provision                                                               
that excludes  these vehicles in  communities that  are connected                                                               
by road to Anchorage or Fairbanks.                                                                                              
2:07:19 PM                                                                                                                    
MR. HEALY explained that the  provision is a result of discussion                                                               
between the department and the  sponsor. DOTPF's main concern was                                                               
that  data shows  that accident  potential  increases as  vehicle                                                               
speed differential  increases. Vehicles  traveling on  roads that                                                               
are posted at 45 mph often  travel much faster than that. Another                                                               
concern is  that these vehicles would  create congestion problems                                                               
on  busy  highways and  therefore  would  not contribute  to  the                                                               
capacity of the roadway.                                                                                                        
CHAIR FRENCH noted  that the bill is aimed  at Sitka, Petersburg,                                                               
Wrangell and any little island  communities, and asked what other                                                               
communities would be affected.                                                                                                  
SENATOR THERRIAULT said they'd be  allowed in all of rural Alaska                                                               
that isn't connected.                                                                                                           
2:09:54 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  HEALY added  that  the  language in  the  CS  has an  opt-in                                                               
provision for  local communities with  a population of  less than                                                               
25,000. In the unorganized borough  these vehicles are allowed on                                                               
highways outside  city boundaries. Cities within  the unorganized                                                               
borough such as Nome and Bethel retain the option.                                                                              
CHAIR FRENCH asked  if there is a list of  communities that would                                                               
qualify  under  the exception  in  subparagraph  (B). After  some                                                               
discussion he deferred his question.                                                                                            
2:12:11 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  THERRIAULT noted  that  Northway, which  is a  community                                                               
that is  off the Alaska Highway,  wouldn't be able to  have these                                                               
CHAIR FRENCH said Talkeetna would be similarly excluded.                                                                        
MR. HEALY explained  that there isn't a restriction  on their use                                                               
in  either of  those communities  as long  as the  existing speed                                                               
limit is below 35 mph. It's  the same for Anchorage or Fairbanks;                                                               
the restriction applies  just if the speed limit  is greater than                                                               
35 mph.                                                                                                                         
2:13:30 PM                                                                                                                    
GERALD HERBRANDSON,  representing himself, stated support  for SB
59. His  company, Solar Wind,  specializes in  alternative energy                                                               
products including  electric vehicles. In Petersburg  there are 9                                                               
of these  vehicles and  about 19  statewide. Basically  these are                                                               
small slow  speed cars that  look somewhat  similar to a  VW bug.                                                               
One difference  is that they  don't have certain  safety features                                                               
such  as airbags.  In small  communities  most trips  are to  the                                                               
grocery store, the post office or  the school and that is hard on                                                               
gasoline or  diesel powered engines  because they don't  warm up.                                                               
In contrast,  electric vehicles are  designed for this  that kind                                                               
of trip.  They're simple, efficient,  and economical  to operate,                                                               
he said.                                                                                                                        
CHAIR FRENCH asked what his cars cost.                                                                                          
MR.  HERBRANDSON said  between $16,000  and $18,000.  Operational                                                               
costs are minimal and maintenance is low.                                                                                       
2:16:58 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR THERRIAULT asked where the vehicles are manufactured.                                                                   
MR. HERBRANDSON said  he sells Miles vehicles.  They are Japanese                                                               
vehicles that are assembled in  China, modified in California and                                                               
adapted for use in Alaska.                                                                                                      
2:17:48 PM                                                                                                                    
MEGAN PASTERNAK,  representing herself  from Sitka, said  she has                                                               
been a low-speed electric vehicle  owner and driver for more than                                                               
a year.  SB 59 is about  more than just cheap  transportation; it                                                               
is a  much needed  step to help  eliminate pollution  and protect                                                               
the environment. She  is a very conscientious driver  and is sure                                                               
other low-speed vehicle drivers  are similarly conscientious. Her                                                               
understanding of why  they are safe is that  they are lightweight                                                               
and "when  involved in a  crash they  tend to bounce  away rather                                                               
than take the full impact force."                                                                                               
2:20:50 PM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR FRENCH closed public testimony  and announced he would hold                                                               
SB 59 in committee.                                                                                                             

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