Before concluding that it’s a great idea to open roads with speed limits of 45 mph or less to snowmachines, four-wheelers and lawn tractors, the Dunleavy administration should have done some homework to find out why it isn’t.
The latest misstep from Gov. Mike Dunleavy, made worse by the failure to consult local governments or those who know anything about public safety, appeared on the state public notice site Tuesday.
The state isn’t disclosing who came up with this idea, only saying it originated with the “staff of state agency.” The state also claims that it will cost nothing to do this, now or in the future, which is obviously a lie.
The Dunleavy plan to put snowmachines on streets guarantees more crashes and conflicts.
And to demonstrate the absolute lack of state coordination, the proposal from the Department of Public Safety — which doesn’t have a commissioner at the moment — comes during the same week that state and local transportation planners in Fairbanks approved a series of ideas going in the opposite direction — to increase safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.
In Fairbanks, the Dunleavy plan would open the likes of College Road, Airport Way, Geist Road and Van Horn Road to snowmachines, as well as all side streets and subdivision roads.
The idea of snowmachine travel on streets is one thing in remote parts of Alaska with limited or no auto and truck traffic. It makes no sense along most of the road system. State safety publications have long made this point.
“Among the most common causes of serious and fatal ATV accidents are collisions with automobiles on highways,” the Alaska State Troopers said in one publication.
“Driver’s license not required!” DOT says in the 19-year-old document posted on a state website about “current” rules.
What could go wrong with opening the roads this way? No license? No enforcement. 10-year-old on a snowmachine in heavy traffic? Lack of visibility for drivers in trucks and cars? No problem, says the Dunleavy administration.
Dunleavy would also open roads posted at 45 mph or below to all-purpose vehicles, defined as “any self-propelled vehicle designed primarily for cross-country travel on land and water, or on more than one type of terrain, and steered by wheels, treads, skis, or any combination thereof, including vehicles that operate on a cushion of air, vehicles commonly known as all-terrain vehicles, all-season vehicles, and utility terrain vehicles.”
That could include garden tractors, lawn mowers and go-carts.
Dunleavy will say that this is all about local control, and his plan would allow local governments to ban snowmachines and all-purpose vehicles from roads within their boundaries.
This is of little use in Fairbanks because the borough does not have road powers. I suspect that the voters would not agree to take on road powers simply to allow the borough to ban snowmachine access legalized by the state. Other boroughs are in the same situation.
One exception is Haines, where snowmachines are allowed on borough roads, but not state roads.
And who would enforce this in boroughs with heavier traffic where there are no local police? The Alaska State Troopers do little traffic enforcement as it is on roads with 45 mph speed limits, wisely using their resources elsewhere on the bigger arteries. The Fairbanks borough doesn’t have police powers.
Nowhere in the Dunleavy plan is there are rational argument for making this change. It appears that no one has given it any real analysis. Had anyone done so, the proposal would not have been made.
Dermot Cole is a longtime Alaskan, an author of several history books and a former Daily News-Miner staff columnist who now writes an occasional column on Alaska politics and history at Reporting From Alaska, www.dermotcole.com. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.