Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/27/2004 01:40 PM House TRA

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 255-ILLEGAL USE TRAFFIC PREEMPTION DEVICE                                                                                  
CHAIR HOLM  announced that the  first order of business  would be                                                               
CS  FOR SENATE  BILL NO.  255(FIN), "An  Act relating  to traffic                                                               
preemption devices."                                                                                                            
Number 0050                                                                                                                     
DENNIS  MICHEL, Staff  to Senator  Gene Therriault,  Alaska State                                                               
Legislature, presented SB  255 on behalf of  its sponsor, Senator                                                               
Therriault.    He explained  that  in  Alaska traffic  preemption                                                               
devices (TPDs)  were originally only  used by  emergency response                                                               
providers.   This legislation would  only allow use of  TPDs when                                                               
en route to  an official emergency.  This  legislation would make                                                               
it a class A misdemeanor to  own or operate TPDs in a nonofficial                                                               
capacity.   However,  the legislation  does include  an exemption                                                               
allowing  maintenance  personnel  to  repair  or  maintain  these                                                               
devices.  There is also an  exemption for state or municipal road                                                               
maintenance  vehicles  such  that  in the  middle  of  the  night                                                               
snowplows would  be able [to utilize  TPDs] and not have  to stop                                                               
at a stop light with a blade  full of snow.  The legislation also                                                               
includes an  exemption for public  transit so that TPDs  could be                                                               
used  in  order  to  create  more efficient  bus  service.    The                                                               
aforementioned would have to be approved by the local community.                                                                
MR. MICHEL noted that SB 255  has three zero fiscal notes and one                                                               
indeterminate fiscal  note.   Mr. Mischel stated  that SB  255 is                                                               
legislation  that would  increase the  security of  intersections                                                               
and streets  throughout the  state.  In  response to  Chair Holm,                                                               
Mr. Michel  confirmed that the  thought behind the  exemption for                                                               
public transit  is that  when there  is no  one at  the stoplight                                                               
save the bus, the bus driver  could press the button and not wait                                                               
the few  minutes for  the light  to cycle to  green.   He further                                                               
noted that  with these larger maintenance  vehicles, the starting                                                               
and stopping increases maintenance costs  for the vehicle as well                                                               
as creates pollution.                                                                                                           
Number 0320                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH asked if  public transit includes school                                                               
MR.  MICHEL  explained  that the  public  transit  exemption  was                                                               
included because Anchorage  would like to permit the  use of TPDs                                                               
on its [city]  bus, not a school bus.   This [exemption] could be                                                               
applied to school buses, although it  would require a vote of the                                                               
Number 0372                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE MASEK  inquired as to the  reason this legislation                                                               
was introduced.                                                                                                                 
MR.  MICHEL   said  that  currently  TPDs   aren't  illegal,  and                                                               
therefore there is no data  regarding whether [the unofficial use                                                               
of] these devices  have caused accidents.  However,  in the Lower                                                               
48 there  have been situations  in which the [unofficial]  use of                                                               
TPDs have  caused accidents.   This legislation  is preventative.                                                               
Mr.  Michel  explained  that  this  legislation  was  brought  to                                                               
Senator Therriault by  Dave Tyler (ph), North  Star Fire Service,                                                               
because Lower 48  fire chiefs have related problems  with the use                                                               
of TPDs.                                                                                                                        
REPRESENTATIVE  STEPOVICH asked  if  all the  signals are  fitted                                                               
with this capability.                                                                                                           
MR.  MICHEL  replied  no.    Currently,  only  state  roads  have                                                               
receivers   for   TPDs.      In   Anchorage,   approximately   27                                                               
intersections   on  the   large  roads   have  these   receivers.                                                               
Anchorage and  Fairbanks are  special cases in  that the  city or                                                               
municipality includes  states roads in  its city or  borough, and                                                               
therefore, [some state roads] appear to be city roads.                                                                          
CHAIR  HOLM asked  if there  is  any reason  why Anchorage  can't                                                               
utilize TPDs on city or municipal roads.                                                                                        
MR. MICHEL  answered that he  didn't believe so, but  opined that                                                               
only  the  state   wanted  the  added  costs   of  putting  these                                                               
[receivers for TPDs] on stoplights.                                                                                             
Number 0555                                                                                                                     
TOM  WILSON,  Public  Transportation, Municipality  of  Anchorage                                                               
(MOA),  said that  MOA  has  been looking  into  using these  TPD                                                               
receivers  on city  roads.   In fact,  an ad  hoc study  group of                                                               
several  municipal  agencies  has   been  formed.    The  primary                                                               
obstacle  with  moving  forward  on  this  is  that  the  traffic                                                               
department doesn't have  the staff to perform  the signal studies                                                               
and the timing.   However, there has been  increased emphasis and                                                               
interest in it.  In response  to Chair Holm, Mr. Wilson confirmed                                                               
that  Public  Transportation  with  MOA   is  in  favor  of  this                                                               
legislation.   Anecdotal information in the  transit industry has                                                               
illustrated that  significant efficiencies  can be  achieved with                                                               
the use  of low-priority signal  preemption.  He  emphasized that                                                               
if  this   legislation  passes,   the  transit  portion   of  the                                                               
legislation  would  be  a  low-priority  device  while  emergency                                                               
responders  would continue  to have  a high-priority  preemption.                                                               
Therefore,  if there  was ever  a conflict  between the  two, the                                                               
high-priority  preemption would  take precedence.   Studies  have                                                               
shown increases in efficiency as high as 46 percent in one case.                                                                
Number 0722                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH  inquired as to the  percentage of state                                                               
and city traffic lights that don't have TPD receivers.                                                                          
MR.  WILSON  said  that  he  didn't know,  but  agreed  with  Mr.                                                               
Michel's  earlier statement  that 27  signals throughout  MOA are                                                               
fitted with  the receivers.   Therefore, MOA faces a  steep curve                                                               
in  order to  put  in  place an  effective  system.   In  further                                                               
response  to Representative  Stepovich, Mr.  Wilson said  that he                                                               
didn't know how many lights are in the MOA.                                                                                     
Number 0856                                                                                                                     
ALLEN  STOREY, Lieutenant,  Central  Office,  Division of  Alaska                                                               
State  Troopers,  Department of  Public  Safety  (DPS), began  by                                                               
testifying  in  support  of this  legislation  because  TPDs  are                                                               
certainly  helpful to  all emergency  responders.   He emphasized                                                               
that one of  the most dangerous things  that emergency responders                                                               
do is driving the vehicles  and even more dangerous is transiting                                                               
through intersections.   Therefore, any device  to help emergency                                                               
responders  make   it  [safely]  through  the   intersections  is                                                               
welcome.   However, the  concern is that  these TPDs  are readily                                                               
available  on the  open  market and  can be  used  by anyone  for                                                               
illegitimate  purposes that  result  in  chaos at  intersections.                                                               
The only legitimate use for  TPDs is for emergency responders and                                                               
government agencies, he stated.                                                                                                 
Number 0992                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE MASEK inquired as to  how law enforcement would be                                                               
able to catch an individual with a TPD in his or her vehicle.                                                                   
LIEUTENANT   STOREY  answered   that  for   the  most   part  law                                                               
enforcement would  have to  directly observe  use of  the device.                                                               
However, it could result from the investigation of an accident.                                                                 
CHAIR  HOLM informed  the committee  that none  of the  lights in                                                               
Kodiak have these receivers.                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE STEPOVICH surmised  that this legislation attempts                                                               
to plan  for the  future and have  [receivers] in  the stoplights                                                               
for use.                                                                                                                        
LIEUTENANT STOREY  agreed, but reminded the  committee that there                                                               
are already 27 devices in use  in the Anchorage bowl and a fairly                                                               
large number  in Fairbanks as  well.   He reiterated the  need to                                                               
ensure that these devices are properly  used only by those with a                                                               
legitimate purpose.                                                                                                             
CHAIR  HOLM   commented  that  TPDs  seem   comparable  to  radar                                                               
detection devices,  which defeat traffic control.   Therefore, he                                                               
said this is probably a good thing.                                                                                             
Number 1159                                                                                                                     
REPRESENTATIVE  MASEK  moved  to  report  CSSB  255(FIN)  out  of                                                               
committee  with individual  recommendations and  the accompanying                                                               
fiscal notes.  There being no objection, it was so ordered.                                                                     
The committee took an at-ease from 1:59 p.m. to 2:00 p.m.                                                                       

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