Legislature(2003 - 2004)

04/15/2004 09:06 AM Senate FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     CS FOR SENATE BILL NO. 255(STA)                                                                                            
     "An Act relating to traffic preemption devices."                                                                           
This was the  second hearing for this bill in  the Senate Finance                                                               
Co-Chair Wilken  stated that this legislation  would "reserve the                                                               
use  of  traffic  preemption devices  for  legitimate  authorized                                                               
users" such as emergency response  providers and road maintenance                                                               
and public  transit vehicles. He  specified that CS  SB 255(STA),                                                               
Version  23-LS1397\Q was  before the  Committee, and  he reminded                                                               
that previous concerns  regarded whether to use the  word "or" or                                                               
"and" on  lines six and  seven of  Section 16, subsection  (a) on                                                               
page one of the bill that reads as follows.                                                                                     
     (a) A  person commits  the crime  of unlawful  possession or                                                               
     use of a  traffic preemption device if  the person possesses                                                               
     or uses a  traffic preemption device and that  person is not                                                               
     at the time of the  possession or use operating an emergency                                                               
Co-Chair Wilken  also noted that  another concern was  whether to                                                               
include public  transit vehicles  in the exemption,  as specified                                                               
in  Section 1,  subsection (b)(2)  on page  one, line  13 through                                                               
page two, line one that reads as follows.                                                                                       
     (2) a person  operating a motor vehicle  involved in highway                                                               
     maintenance or  public transit that  has been  authorized by                                                               
     the Department of Transportation  and Public Facilities or a                                                               
     municipality to possess or use a traffic preemption device.                                                                
Co-Chair Wilken  noted that the  Department of Health  and Social                                                               
Services supports this legislation.                                                                                             
DENNIS  MICHEL,  Staff to  Senator  Gene  Therriault, the  bill's                                                               
sponsor, noted that he had  worked with Co-Chair Green's staff to                                                               
address the concern regarding the  language "possession or use of                                                               
a  traffic  preemption  device" as  specified  in  Section  1(a).                                                               
Continuing, he  noted that changing this  language to "possession                                                               
and  use  of  a  traffic  preemption  device"  would  present  "a                                                               
loophole in  prosecuting people caught  using these  devices." He                                                               
pointed  out  that "these  devices  have  no  other use  than  to                                                               
preempt traffic."                                                                                                               
Co-Chair  Green acknowledged  that  she is  comfortable with  the                                                               
bill's existing language.                                                                                                       
Senator Dyson stated that, while  he appreciates the logic of the                                                               
discussion, he  "fundamentally disapproves" of  criminalizing the                                                               
action of  possessing "a piece  of hardware" as it  furthers "our                                                               
culture's"  tendency to  penalize  people who  have done  nothing                                                               
wrong.  He  likened  this situation  to  anti-gun  activists  who                                                               
claim, "that owning  a weapon, that is only  designed for defense                                                               
as  in shooting  people, ought  to be  outlawed." In  summary, he                                                               
voiced being  uneasy about "the  slippery slope  of criminalizing                                                               
something when no negative behavior has ever been demonstrated."                                                                
Senator Olson voiced similar concerns  in that a person who might                                                               
possess but not  be able to operate such a  device "would be held                                                               
outside of the standard of being innocent until proven guilty."                                                                 
There  being  no further  discussion  regarding  the language  in                                                               
Section 1(a), Co-Chair Wilken directed  the discussion to Section                                                               
Mr.  Michel   communicated  that  utilizing   traffic  preemptive                                                               
devices for public  transit needs is not uncommon  and "does have                                                               
some merit"  as these devices  are currently utilized  to address                                                               
traffic  problems  in such  cities  as  Portland Oregon,  Seattle                                                               
Washington, and Chicago Illinois.                                                                                               
Co-Chair  Wilken  noted  that the  bill's  sponsor  has  provided                                                               
Members   with  "An   Overview   of   Transit  Signal   Priority"                                                               
publication [copy on  file] that reviews these  and other cities'                                                               
experiences with the traffic exemption devices.                                                                                 
TOM  WILSON,  Director,  Public Transportation,  Municipality  of                                                               
Anchorage,  testified  via  teleconference  from  Anchorage,  and                                                               
explained that  the Municipality's transit system  has identified                                                               
the  implementation of  traffic preemptive  devices as  something                                                               
they would like to pursue at  some point. He stated that a common                                                               
complaint  of  most transit  systems  is  "that buses  don't  run                                                               
frequently  enough  and that  there  is  too much  time"  between                                                               
scheduled  runs.  He  stated that  implementation  of  developing                                                               
technology  such as  traffic preemptive  devices could  assist in                                                               
addressing  these concerns.  He stated  that although  "long-term                                                               
field  studies" have  been not  conducted in  the United  States,                                                               
information  does  indicate   that  "significant  advantages  and                                                               
efficiencies"  could   result  by  the  implementation   of  "low                                                               
priority"  traffic   preemptive  devices  as  opposed   to  "high                                                               
priority devices, which would be reserved for police and fire."                                                                 
Mr. Wilson  explained that the  low priority systems  utilized in                                                               
some  cities  are automated  and  have  resulted in  "significant                                                               
reductions  in  trip  times."  Continuing,   he  noted  that  the                                                               
benefits  derived from  trip time  reductions would  include such                                                               
things  as  an  increased  use  of  the  public  transit  system;                                                               
decreased  use  of single  occupancy  vehicles  on the  roadways;                                                               
decreased  road maintenance;  and  reduced  emissions. He  stated                                                               
that  because of  these  benefits, "it  would  be an  unfortunate                                                               
oversight to preclude" public transit  system from the ability to                                                               
utilize  these  devices. He  stated  that  the Anchorage  transit                                                               
system would  coordinate use  of these devices  with a  number of                                                               
municipality ad  hoc committees to include  the traffic engineer,                                                               
the traffic department, and the police and fire agencies.                                                                       
Senator Dyson voiced concern that  allowing the transit system to                                                               
utilize  these devices  might result  in a  scenario wherein  two                                                               
lanes of private citizen traffic might  be backed up while a city                                                               
bus, going another direction, preempts  the traffic signal in its                                                               
favor. Therefore, he  asked how the program  could be implemented                                                               
to address the competing needs of private citizens.                                                                             
Mr. Wilson  responded that this  "is a commonly  raised concern,"                                                               
and he  noted that existing  studies indicate when the  system is                                                               
"adequately  designed"  there is  "little  or  no impact  on  the                                                               
travel times  of other motorists." Continuing,  he explained that                                                               
rather than being  a manual system operated  by individual buses,                                                               
the  device could  be tailored  to  specific areas  and would  be                                                               
operated   by   a    centralized   traffic   management   center.                                                               
Furthermore, he  stated that  once the  parameters of  the system                                                               
are established  and entered into a  traffic management computer,                                                               
activation  rules  would  limit  its  use  to  those  times,  for                                                               
instance, when a bus was  running ten minutes behind schedule. In                                                               
conclusion, he stressed that studies  indicate there to be little                                                               
impact on other  traffic and that motorists in the  vicinity of a                                                               
bus might benefit by taking advantage of the situation.                                                                         
Senator  Dyson voiced  disappointment that  the response  did not                                                               
include  utilization  of  the  device in  low  traffic  times  to                                                               
provide a  bus with a green  light as opposed to  requiring it to                                                               
wait  at  an  "arbitrary"  red  light when  there  was  no  cross                                                               
traffic. Therefore,  he surmised  that routinely the  devices are                                                               
limited to high traffic times.  In conclusion, he stated that the                                                               
response  did not  assure him  that  the device's  impact on  the                                                               
motorists would be minimal.                                                                                                     
Mr. Wilson voiced  the understanding that the  system would allow                                                               
for  protocols   to  be  established  in   the  computer  system.                                                               
Therefore,  he  continued,  Senator Dyson's  concerns  "could  be                                                               
addressed  in that  fashion." He  stressed that  "the predominant                                                               
application"  of  the  devices  has been  to  address  congestion                                                               
rather than  wait times. He  informed the Committee  that transit                                                               
vehicles normally spend 15-percent of  their trip time waiting at                                                               
traffic signals,  and therefore, he noted,  studies indicate that                                                               
this device would "significantly reduce"  that wait time by up to                                                               
40-percent on average. This, he  stated, would reduce a 60-minute                                                               
round-trip  to  55-minutes  and   therefore,  providing  "a  more                                                               
competitive service."                                                                                                           
Senator Dyson  disclosed that he  would be more  comfortable with                                                               
the implementation of traffic devices  were they approved through                                                               
a local  citizen or  local assembly vote  process. He  noted that                                                               
the  residents   of  Anchorage   have  not,   historically,  been                                                               
supportive of the  local transit authority. He  asked whether the                                                               
communities that  have implemented the  device did so  upon voter                                                               
Mr. Wilson responded  that everything he had  seen indicated that                                                               
the device  was "implemented through  local ordinances  and local                                                               
processes, but not necessarily subject to a vote."                                                                              
Mr. Michel noted that language in  Section 1(b)(2) on page one of                                                               
the bill  specifies that implementation of  the preemptive device                                                               
must  be authorized  by the  local municipality.  He opined  that                                                               
this  language, which  reads as  follows, should  address Senator                                                               
Dyson's concern.                                                                                                                
     (2) a person  operating a motor vehicle  involved in highway                                                               
     maintenance or  public transit that  has been  authorized by                                                               
     the Department of Transportation  and Public Facilities or a                                                               
     municipality to possess or use a traffic preemption device.                                                                
Co-Chair  Wilken observed  that  the language  includes the  word                                                               
"or" and  could therefore allow  for authorization either  by the                                                               
Department of  Transportation and Public Facilities  (DOT) or the                                                               
Mr. Michel  concurred but stated  that due  to the fact  that DOT                                                               
does not  have a bus  system, the  authorization would be  by the                                                               
Senator Bunde commented  that this language would  "not allow for                                                               
a vote of the people."                                                                                                          
Senator Bunde  understood that the Anchorage  transit system does                                                               
not currently own any traffic preemptive devices.                                                                               
Mr. Wilson  responded that  is correct. He  noted that  a limited                                                               
number  of intersections  in the  Municipality are  equipped with                                                               
the devices of which only  the fire department could activate. He                                                               
was unsure as to whether  the police department was equipped with                                                               
the devices.                                                                                                                    
Senator Bunde  asked for a  cost estimate for outfitting  the bus                                                               
transit system.                                                                                                                 
Mr. Wilson  responded that an  initial cost study  indicates that                                                               
the  transit system's  portion of  the total  cost of  purchasing                                                               
transmitters,  receivers, and  computers  would  amount to  three                                                               
million  dollars.  He noted  that  the  majority of  the  transit                                                               
system's   expenses  would   be  eligible   to  receive   federal                                                               
"intelligent  transportation  system" funding  "which  frequently                                                               
requires no local match."                                                                                                       
Senator  Olson asked  how the  Municipality of  Anchorage with  a                                                               
population of less than 300,000  could compare its transportation                                                               
needs to those of "much larger cosmopolitan areas."                                                                             
Mr.  Wilson responded  that rather  than  comparing Anchorage  to                                                               
those larger  cities that have  these devices, the intent  was to                                                               
provide  examples  of  the  affects  of  the  traffic  preemption                                                               
devices. He  pointed out that  this is an emerging  technology of                                                               
which, currently, only larger areas have implemented.                                                                           
AL STOREY,  Alaska State Troopers,  Department of  Public Safety,                                                               
testified via teleconference from an  offnet site to comment that                                                               
the  Department is  in support  of restricting  the use  of these                                                               
devices to  emergency vehicles  in order  to address  the concern                                                               
that unrestricted use could corrupt  an entire traffic management                                                               
system and result  in chaotic and dangerous  situations. He noted                                                               
that while the  fire and police department  devices have priority                                                               
status  with  the  signaling  system,  a  situation  could  arise                                                               
wherein an  individual could trigger  a device prior to  a police                                                               
officers approach to a signal and create confusion.                                                                             
Co-Chair Wilken  noted that, in  addition to these  devices being                                                               
used  in Anchorage,  the  city of  Fairbanks  has utilized  these                                                               
traffic devices effectively for more than ten years.                                                                            
Senator  Dyson   asked  whether  the  bill's   definition  of  an                                                               
emergency vehicle is sufficient  as he questioned whether someone                                                               
such as  a supervising  officer in  a non-official  vehicle might                                                               
require use of the device in an emergency.                                                                                      
Mr. Storey explained  that there is a  very restrictive criterion                                                               
regarding  the  use of  the  device.  He  allowed that  while  an                                                               
extreme "aggravated" situation such  as a hostage situation might                                                               
support expanding the  authorized use of the device,  he would be                                                               
surprised were, as a matter  of routine business, the restrictive                                                               
criteria and usage guidelines expanded.                                                                                         
Senator Dyson  questioned whether  the definition of  a emergency                                                               
vehicle  should be  broadened to  include  a person  such as  the                                                               
volunteer  fire  department chief,  in  addition  to the  current                                                               
definition that limits use to  fire, police, or medical emergency                                                               
Mr.  Storey  replied  that although  volunteer  firefighters  and                                                               
others who  must respond to  emergency situations  are important,                                                               
the  decision to  broaden the  definition should  be a  Committee                                                               
Senator  Bunde  asked how  the  system  would function  were  two                                                               
emergency  vehicles approaching  an  intersection from  different                                                               
Mr.  Storey remarked  that fire  and  police vehicle  transmitter                                                               
devices  could  be programmed  to  supercede  signals from  lower                                                               
priority devices utilized in transit  system buses or maintenance                                                               
vehicles. He  voiced the hope  that the priority  vehicle devices                                                               
would  also supercede  illegal devices.  In  response to  Senator                                                               
Bunde's question,  he stated that  were two priority  vehicles to                                                               
approach a common intersection there  might be conflict; however,                                                               
he  noted that  the  emergency vehicle  drivers could  coordinate                                                               
their  positions  via  their  communication  radios  and  use  of                                                               
professional courtesy.                                                                                                          
Senator Bunde, noting  that he is unfamiliar  with these devices,                                                               
asked whether the ones available  on the market emit low priority                                                               
signals.   Furthermore,  he   questioned   the   need  for   this                                                               
legislation  were   the  high   priority  emergency   devices  to                                                               
supercede low priority devices.                                                                                                 
Mr. Storey responded  that the purpose of this  legislation is to                                                               
offset criminal acts  of those who possess these  devices and who                                                               
might use them, for instance,  to "corrupt the traffic management                                                               
system" in order to  get to work on time. He  noted that there is                                                               
also  the possibility  that priority  emergency vehicles  signals                                                               
might  be interfered  with,  as  he was  unsure  of the  priority                                                               
configuration of "bootlegged" devices.                                                                                          
Mr.  Michel informed  the Committee  that volunteer  firefighters                                                               
utilize a  blue light  system on  their vehicles.  Continuing, he                                                               
noted that while  these volunteers are trained  and authorized to                                                               
use these lights, they are  not authorized to exceed posted speed                                                               
limits.  He  recommended  against  broadening the  scope  of  the                                                               
definition to include persons such as volunteers.                                                                               
Mr. Michel further  explained that a tier  system is incorporated                                                               
into the traffic  preemption device system that  would disallow a                                                               
low  priority vehicle  such as  a  snowplow or  transit bus  from                                                               
interfering  with  an  emergency   vehicle  signal.  However,  he                                                               
stressed, that without  this legislation, it would  be unclear as                                                               
to  whether bootlegged  devices  could  interfere with  emergency                                                               
vehicle  devices.  He  clarified  that  when  two  high  priority                                                               
vehicles approach a  signaled intersection, "it is  a first come,                                                               
first served basis."                                                                                                            
Senator  Dyson  stated  that  he would  accept  the  language  in                                                               
Section 1(a).  However, he suggested language  in Section 1(b)(2)                                                               
be altered.                                                                                                                     
Conceptual  Amendment   #1:  This  amendment  deletes   the  word                                                               
"municipality"  in Section  1, subsection  (b) (2)  on page  one,                                                               
line 15, and  replaces it with "municipal or  city assembly." The                                                               
amended language would read as follows.                                                                                         
     (2) a person  operating a motor vehicle  involved in highway                                                               
     maintenance or  public transit that  has been  authorized by                                                               
     the Department of Transportation  and Public Facilities or a                                                               
     municipal  or city  assembly  to possess  or  use a  traffic                                                               
     preemptive device.                                                                                                         
Senator  Dyson  moved  for  the  adoption  of  Amendment  #1.  He                                                               
informed that  this amendment would  provide local  citizenry the                                                               
ability to  have a public  process through  which to weigh  in on                                                               
whether  to  allow  their  local transit  system  to  have  these                                                               
Senator Bunde objected  to inform that he would  be presenting an                                                               
amendment that  would remove the  entire public  transit language                                                               
from the legislation.  He recalled that Mr.  Wilson had testified                                                               
that  the transit  system  "has no  present  plans" to  implement                                                               
these devices. Continuing, he noted that  he would be open to the                                                               
idea in the  future, were the citizens of  Anchorage provided the                                                               
opportunity  to  participate in  the  decision  were the  transit                                                               
system to advance this effort.                                                                                                  
Senator Bunde removed his objection.                                                                                            
There being no further objection, Amendment #1 was ADOPTED.                                                                     
Conceptual Amendment #2: This amendment  deletes the language "or                                                               
public  transit",  and  "or  a municipal  or  city  assembly"  as                                                               
amended by Amendment #1, in  Section 1, subsection (b)(2) on page                                                               
one, lines 14 and 15. The language would read as follows.                                                                       
      (2) a person operating a  motor vehicle involved in highway                                                               
     maintenance that  has been authorized  by the  Department of                                                               
     Transportation  and Public  Facilities to  possess or  use a                                                               
     traffic preemptive device.                                                                                                 
Senator Bunde moved for the adoption of Amendment #2.                                                                           
Senator Wilken objected.                                                                                                        
Senator  Bunde  stated  that  this  amendment  would  remove  the                                                               
transit system  from the legislation  due to the fact  that there                                                               
is  currently no  plan  underway to  institute  these devices  in                                                               
Anchorage's transit  system and, therefore, authorization  is not                                                               
currently required.  Continuing, he  noted that this  issue could                                                               
be readdressed in the future. He  declared that he does not agree                                                               
that  these  transit  devices  would  not  "inconvenience"  other                                                               
Co-Chair  Wilken maintained  his objection,  as he  stated he  is                                                               
comfortable with  allowing the  transit system  to remain  in the                                                               
bill; especially in light of the language added by Amendment #1.                                                                
Senator Olson commented that, as  a physician, it is difficult to                                                               
discuss  emergency  vehicles  and   transit  buses  in  the  same                                                               
SFC 04 # 83, Side A 10:42 AM                                                                                                    
A roll call was taken on the motion.                                                                                            
IN FAVOR: Senator Olson and Senator Bunde                                                                                       
OPPOSED: Senator Hoffman, Senator B. Stevens, Senator Dyson, Co-                                                                
Chair Green, and Co-Chair Wilken                                                                                                
The motion FAILED (2-5)                                                                                                         
Amendment #2 FAILED to be adopted.                                                                                              
Co-Chair  Green  moved  to  report the  bill,  as  amended,  from                                                               
Committee  with   individual  recommendations   and  accompanying                                                               
fiscal notes.                                                                                                                   
Co-Chair Wilken  objected in order  to request that  Members read                                                               
the analysis  included with the  new fiscal note provided  by the                                                               
Public Defenders Office of the Department of Administration.                                                                    
Co-Chair Wilken removed his objection.                                                                                          
There being  no further objection,  CS SB 255 (FIN)  was REPORTED                                                               
from Committee with  zero fiscal note #1, dated  February 9, 2004                                                               
and  zero  fiscal  note  #2,  dated February  6,  2004  from  the                                                               
Department of Public Safety; zero  fiscal note #3, dated February                                                               
10,  2004 from  the Department  of Law;  and a  new indeterminate                                                               
fiscal  note,  dated  April  6,   2004  from  the  Department  of                                                               

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