The Borough Assembly wants the Alaska Department of Public Safety to withdraw a plan to allow snowmachines and four wheelers on public roads with speed limits of 45 mph or slower. That includes roads such as Airport Way, Cushman Street and College Road.
Traffic safety concerns were cited in a resolution approved in a 6-3 vote on Thursday at a special meeting. The sponsor was Borough Mayor Bryce Ward.
The resolution cites traffic fatality statistics — some years the state has reportedly seen more fatalities from snowmachines on roadways than from conventional vehicles — and calls for more review.
A similar measure was debated and postponed by the Fairbanks City Council on Monday, while FAST Planning, the local transportation planning organization, will take no official position on the issue. FAST Planning’s policy board failed to get enough votes in favor of sending a six-page letter to the state of Alaska criticizing the plan.
Jackson Fox, executive director of FAST Planning, said the three local mayors, including North Pole Mayor Mike Welch, voted in favor of the letter.
Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly wrote his own letter to Alaska Wildlife Troopers saying he will move to prohibit off-road vehicles on Fairbanks city roads if the state moves to allow it.
“While it may be understandable that a remote village or town has the need for ATV’s to be allowed on public roads, we cannot see a reasonable argument to support it in Fairbanks,” the city mayor wrote.
Welch said he is working on a letter that he plans to bring before the North Pole City Council on Monday.
Currently, off-road vehicles are only allowed on road shoulders. They can also cross a bridge or culvert and be on roads when other cars cannot use the road because of snow or ice.
Assemblywoman Tammie Wilson and Assemblymen Jimi Cash and Frank Tomaszewski opposed the borough resolution, which states that: “The Fairbanks North Star Borough (FNSB) recognizes ATVs and snowmobiles fulfill the basic mobility needs of some Alaska residents, particularly in rural and remote locales, but believes the proposed changes will consequentially increase the number of fatalities and serious injuries on roads statewide.”
Wilson does not believe that the resolution represents the views of borough residents.
“We had nobody testify (in person) on it last night,” she said during an interview Friday.
Ward said he received multiple emails from people who oppose the allowing off-road vehicles on roadways and could think of none that he’d received in support of the idea.
The resolution calls for “a working group of relevant and affected agencies and organizations” to be established “to jointly author the changes in a comprehensive and equitable manner that maintains the safety of the traveling public and considers the costs of such changes.”
A public comment period on the state regulation changes is being hosted by the Alaska Department of Public Safety through 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy wrote in a social media post that the goal of the regulation changes is “to provide Alaskans the greatest opportunity to safely and affordably travel throughout the state.”
Municipalities could prohibit snowmachines or all-purpose vehicles from using roadways. The problem, according to Ward, is the Fairbanks borough “is a second-class borough and has limited road and police powers.”
“Borough residents have said, ‘No, we’re not doing police powers, which is how you would regulate those things,’” the mayor said.
In his letter to Alaska Wildlife Troopers, Matherly raised multiple concerns about the state’s plan, writing that mixing ATVs with large trucks, such as graders and dump trucks, on public roadways will create visibility issues for the truck drivers.
“Visibility is limited already and there is great concern of injury and accidents due to collision with smaller motor vehicles,” the mayor wrote.
He is also worried about added costs.
“More traffic enforcement will be needed, which would require more funding,” Matherly wrote.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.