Legislature(2009 - 2010)BUTROVICH 205

02/17/2009 01:00 PM TRANSPORTATION

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Audio Topic
01:03:13 PM Start
01:03:46 PM SB59
01:37:05 PM Adjourn
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
                SB  59-LOW-SPEED MOTOR VEHICLES                                                                             
SENATOR KOOKESH announced the consideration of SB 59.                                                                           
1:03:46 PM                                                                                                                    
WESTON EILER,  Staff to  Senator Bert Stedman,  said SB  59 would                                                               
allow  low-speed vehicles  - which  travel at  25 mph  or less  -                                                               
access to  roads that have  a posted speed  limit of 45  mph. The                                                               
current limit  is 35 mph.  The bill is  designed to allow  use of                                                               
low-speed electric vehicles on state  roads in small communities.                                                               
He emphasized  that the  program is  optional. DOTPF  may express                                                               
concern about having low-speed vehicles  in large urban areas and                                                               
the  sponsor  understands those  concerns.  For  that reason  the                                                               
local option in  subsection (c) is unchanged.  Any community that                                                               
has any concerns about low-speed  vehicle use is empowered to opt                                                               
At  present  there  are more  than  12  cost-effective  low-speed                                                               
vehicles  operating  in  Southeast communities.  DOTPF  estimates                                                               
that  this bill  will  open an  additional 30  miles  of road  in                                                               
Southeast  Alaska communities  to these  low-speed vehicles.  For                                                               
example,  Wrangell  residents  would  be  able  to  access  their                                                               
airport. The  bill promotes  sustainable transportation  in small                                                               
communities while allowing flexibility  in how low-speed vehicles                                                               
are regulated.                                                                                                                  
1:06:15 PM                                                                                                                    
DARWIN PETERSON, Staff  to Senator Stedman, said  he is available                                                               
for questions.                                                                                                                  
SENATOR MEYER  asked if  low-speed vehicles can  attain a  45 mph                                                               
MR. EILER replied,  by definition, low-speed vehicles  top out at                                                               
25 mph.                                                                                                                         
SENATOR  MEYER  raised the  issue  of  confusion if  Palmer,  for                                                               
example, were to opt out and Wasilla did not.                                                                                   
MR.  EILER reiterated  that low-speed  vehicles  are confined  to                                                               
slower  roadways within  a  community. Major  roads  with 55  mph                                                               
speed limits wouldn't be affected.                                                                                              
SENATOR  MEYER  observed  that  it   wouldn't  be  a  problem  in                                                               
1:08:43 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MENARD  restated the  potential  for  confusion in  more                                                               
urban areas.                                                                                                                    
MR. PETERSON  said it  would be  a local  option and  the sponsor                                                               
anticipates  that larger  communities  would opt  out because  of                                                               
potential   traffic  issues.   Smaller  communities   in  Senator                                                               
Stedman's district,  for example, would likely  allow the program                                                               
because  very few  road  miles in  those  communities have  speed                                                               
limits in excess of 35 mph.                                                                                                     
1:09:52 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KOOKESH said  he doesn't understand the  need to increase                                                               
the limit to 45 mph if low-speed vehicles only go 25 mph.                                                                       
MR. PETERSON explained that in  Sitka, for example, residents can                                                               
use  their electric  cars on  all but  7 miles  of road.  Current                                                               
statute says low-speed vehicles can  only travel on roadways that                                                               
have a maximum posted speed of  35 mph. The sponsor believes that                                                               
increasing  the limit  to 45  mph  would increase  accessibility,                                                               
particularly in small communities.                                                                                              
1:12:43 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MENARD asked if the  sponsor had considered waiting until                                                               
there are more than just 12 low-speed vehicles on the road.                                                                     
MR.  EILER  said   the  number  is  just  a   rough  estimate  to                                                               
demonstrate   that  people   are  interested   in  cost-effective                                                               
sustainable transportation and  want to access areas  such as the                                                               
Wrangell  airport.  "We're  certainly hearing  from  constituents                                                               
that this  is something they'd like  to see so that  they can use                                                               
them throughout their small communities."                                                                                       
SENATOR   MENARD  asked   if  he   has  researched   other  small                                                               
communities in Western Alaska, for  example, to know if they have                                                               
any of these electric cars.                                                                                                     
MR. EILER replied he doesn't  have specific information, but he'd                                                               
be happy to do more research.                                                                                                   
SENATOR KOOKESH asked  if there's a reason  that "electric" isn't                                                               
in the title when it's used throughout the body of the bill.                                                                    
1:16:19 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  PETERSON replied  most low-speed  vehicles are  electric but                                                               
some are hybrid.                                                                                                                
MR.  EILER noted  that in  the packet  are examples  of low-speed                                                               
vehicles that are gas/electric hybrids.                                                                                         
SENATOR KOOKESH mentioned a small  caravan type vehicle he saw in                                                               
Whale Pass  that operates on  a gas  engine. The driver  said she                                                               
only gets 20 miles per gallon, which didn't impress him.                                                                        
SENATOR MEYER questioned why anyone would  buy a car like that if                                                               
it  didn't  get  good  mileage.  He asked  if  there  are  safety                                                               
MR. EILER  explained that low-speed  vehicles aren't  required to                                                               
have the  same safety features  as a  standard car, which  is one                                                               
reason the speed is capped at 25 mph.                                                                                           
MR. PETERSON added  that low-speed vehicles they are  aware of in                                                               
Southeast Alaska  have roll bars  and electric turn  signals, but                                                               
in crash tests they don't rate as well as passenger vehicles.                                                                   
SENATOR MEYER  raised the issue of  safety if they travel  on the                                                               
same roadway as larger cars.                                                                                                    
MR. PETERSON  said if communities allow  low-speed vehicles, they                                                               
would be  sharing the  roadway with  regular sized  vehicles when                                                               
the posted speed is up to 45 mph.                                                                                               
1:20:41 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MENARD asked  if four-wheelers can go faster  than 25 mph                                                               
and would those drivers think they would be included under this.                                                                
MR. PETERSON  explained that four  wheelers are a  separate class                                                               
of vehicle that is regulated differently.  His can go 55 mph, but                                                               
it's not allowed on roads.                                                                                                      
1:21:57 PM                                                                                                                    
ROGER  HEALY, Chief  Engineer, Division  of Design  & Engineering                                                               
Services,  Department  of  Transportation and  Public  Facilities                                                               
(DOTPF), said  the department is  in charge of  planning, design,                                                               
construction,  operation and  maintenance of  state highways.  As                                                               
such,  it has  concerns related  to  safety and  capacity of  the                                                               
roadway. Roads are safest when  vehicles travel at about the same                                                               
speed and this  bill would increase the mean  speed difference by                                                               
up  to 20  miles  an hour.  DOTPF also  has  concerns related  to                                                               
congestion, but  does recognize that  the sponsor is  focusing on                                                               
rural communities and minor highways.                                                                                           
1:24:14 PM                                                                                                                    
MR.  HEALY  informed members  that  crashes  increase as  roadway                                                               
speed varies, and  vehicles that are traveling 20  miles per hour                                                               
below the  mean speed are five  to eight times more  likely to be                                                               
in an accident.  Because the bill isn't intended  for major urban                                                               
centers,  the  issues  of congestion  aren't  at  the  forefront.                                                               
However, standard vehicles that are  backed up behind a low-speed                                                               
vehicle  won't be  utilizing the  fuel-efficiency for  which they                                                               
were designed  and capacity  of the  roadway is  decreased. DOTPF                                                               
recognizes  the intent  of  SB  59 and  is  ready  to assist  the                                                               
sponsor  to  move  forward.  As written,  there  are  safety  and                                                               
congestion issues.                                                                                                              
SENATOR DAVIS  asked if  the department  has suggestions  to make                                                               
the bill more palatable.                                                                                                        
MR.  HEALY replied  the concerns  are highway  specific, but  one                                                               
factor is  whether or  not the  road has  wide shoulders  so that                                                               
low-speed vehicles can move over  to allow other vehicles to pass                                                               
unimpeded. Driver characteristics also  must be considered. DOTPF                                                               
research  indicates only  Kentucky allows  low-speed vehicles  to                                                               
travel on roadways with a posted speed of 45 mph.                                                                               
1:27:45 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR  MENARD said  she appreciates  the concerns  about safety                                                               
and congestion. The potential for  others to get poor gas mileage                                                               
also gives her pause.                                                                                                           
SENATOR  KOOKESH asked  if he  would say  that DOTPF  opposes the                                                               
MR.  HEALY replied  "I would  say that  right now  the department                                                               
would oppose this bill on issues  of safety. … If the communities                                                               
had to  undergo an  active incorporation of  this rather  than by                                                               
default, then we may reconsider."                                                                                               
1:30:13 PM                                                                                                                    
GERALD  HERBRANDSON,  proprietor  of  Solar  Wind  of  Alaska  in                                                               
Petersburg, said  he has  been promoting  the use  of alternative                                                               
energy for  10 years.  He would  like to  encourage the  state to                                                               
enact  legislation to  support people  who are  attempting to  be                                                               
environmentally  conscience. This  bill  is  about vehicles  that                                                               
basically  use a  renewable energy  resource  rather than  fossil                                                               
fuel. They are  ideal for many Alaska communities  and would fill                                                               
a transportation niche where  internal combustion engines perform                                                               
poorly. He agrees that this  is not appropriate everywhere but in                                                               
smaller  communities where  most trips  are short  these electric                                                               
vehicles are quite ideal.                                                                                                       
SENATOR KOOKESH  noted that  Carl Springer  and Stacy  Oates from                                                               
Division  of Motor  Vehicles (DMV)  are online  and available  to                                                               
answer questions.                                                                                                               
1:32:48 PM                                                                                                                    
JIM SCHRAMEK, representing himself, said  he owns and operates an                                                               
electric car in  Petersburg. This bill would  help in communities                                                               
like his where destinations aren't  far but have sections of road                                                               
that  have a  posted speed  of 40  mph. This  would not  increase                                                               
hazard  in and  around Petersburg  because you  can pull  over if                                                               
you're travelling too slowly. We  need to look ways to transition                                                               
to new technologies, he said.                                                                                                   
SENATOR  KOOKESH  asked  Mr.  Eiler  to  get  together  with  the                                                               
administration  to talk  about limiting  the bill  to communities                                                               
that aren't connected to a major  highway or have a population of                                                               
less than so  many people. He suggested that adding  that kind of                                                               
language may  be the only way  to get some kind  of agreement. We                                                               
don't  want to  congest  major  highways or  get  into issues  of                                                               
safety. "This may be a way of the  future but we have to find out                                                               
some way in Alaska to make this work."                                                                                          
1:36:26 PM                                                                                                                    
SENATOR MENARD said she wants to hear about how this has worked                                                                 
in Kentucky.                                                                                                                    
SENATOR KOOKESH stated that he wants SB 59 to move forward but                                                                  
he would hold it for further work.                                                                                              

Document Name Date/Time Subjects
Senate Bill 59_Bill Packet.pdf STRA 2/17/2009 1:00:00 PM
STRA 2/24/2009 1:00:00 PM
operation of low speed vehicles
relating to the operation of low-speed vehicles (Sen Stedman)