The Anchorage Assembly passed AO 19-131 by a vote of 6-3 on Tuesday night pushing back the first day vehicles with studded tires can legally be used in Anchorage.
The ordinance amends Anchorage Municipal Code shortening the season of studded tires by two weeks on the front end following an analysis from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and the University of Alaska Anchorage Engineering College of Engineering. The ordinance moves the first legal date for studded tires in Anchorage from September 15 to October 1, and was amended to allow for Municipal Traffic Engineer Stephanie Mormilo to lift the ban in the event of an early snowfall. The ordinance also provides safeguards for Alaska residents above the 62nd parallel and those with special individual traction permits through the state. The 62nd parallel begins just south of Talkeetna on the Parks Highway and near Glennallen on the Glenn Highway. The spring date for studded tires to be removed remained at May 1. Anchorage Assembly Chair Felix Rivera motioned to postpone the ordinance from November to December to allow time for Mat-Su Borough Assembly members to offer input.
“We do have people coming in from the Valley, coming from all parts of the state where there are places where they feel like they need studded tires before we might need them in town,” Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton said. “I really agree with this letter from the Mat-Su Borough Manager, for a two week change I think we will create a huge amount of problems for too many people.”
Borough Manager John Moosey issued a letter in opposition of the Anchorage Assembly’s ordinance. Moosey’s letter disagreed with some of the numbers used in AO 19-131 and cited impacts on motorist safety traveling to and from Anchorage without studs.
“This would have a minor impact on road wear and tear. It would also make resident travel less safe,” Moosey wrote. “Please strongly consider making a decision jointly with DOT. It will be an enforcement nightmare if folks legally driving in from Fairbanks and the Valley get cited once they enter into Anchorage for work or shopping.”
Fines for studded tires out of season $200 for a standard vehicle with four tires. The numbers from the study by UAA entitled “survey and economic analysis of the pavement impacts from studded tire use in Alaska” cite a drop in studded tire usage and emphasized wear on asphalt due to studs. The study says that only 35 percent of vehicles surveyed in Anchorage in 2018 utilize studded tires, while 49 percent of vehicles had studs in 1990. The study concludes that use of studs decreases the asphalt life by 47 percent, cutting seven years off the expected 15-year life of pavement. Moosey’s letter disagrees.
“The estimated savings of $3.2 million out of a total damage of 13.7 seems overly optimistic,” Moosey wrote.
By Moosey’s calculations, two weeks out of a 32-week period for legal studs is a reduction of 6.25 percent of the total time period, while the UAA study assumes 23.4 percent reduction in damage to asphalt. Moosey estimated that rather than $3.2 million in savings by preventing studded tire use on Anchorage roads for two weeks, the savings would total $856,000.
Mat-Su Borough Assembly member Dan Mayfield heard backlash from Valley residents about the proposed change and estimated that 35 percent or around 35,000 Valley residents travel the Glenn Highway to and from Anchorage every day.
“What I’m concerned with is just the confusion that it will cause for the most part,” Mayfield said. “The feedback I’ve gotten from some residents is actually Anchorage roads tend to be even icier than some of our commuting roads.”
South of the 62nd parallel but north of Anchorage and much of the Valley, Houston Fire Chief Christian Hartley sees the benefit of keeping studded tires off the roads before they are necessary for safe driving, but also has issues with disparate laws between neighboring communities.
“The more remote you live, the more you may need those studs. I do not see the problem with people using studs during the allotted time. I would prefer that everybody be on the same page,” Hartley said.
Anchorage Assembly member Meg Zaletel’s amendment to allow vehicles with special individual traction permits from the state to be exempt from fines in Anchorage for drivers with studded tires prior to Oct. 1 passed unanimously.
“We asked the administration and ourselves how to save money for the public. This saves money, it still gives us the safeguard of having the municipal traffic engineer make a change, we all know that climate change is happening. It didn’t even snow until November this year. I think moving it from Sept. 15 15 to Sept. 30 is really not a problem,” Anchorage Assembly member Austin Quinn-Davidson said.
Anchorage Assembly member Pete Petersen questioned Anchorage Manager Bill Falsey on whether residents living at higher elevations in Anchorage that see earlier snowfall could be exempted from the ban. Anchorage Assembly member Chris Constant asked if a second provision could be written in exempting those living at upper elevations. Falsey clarified that the Municipal Traffic Engineer would lift the ban in the event of early winter weather conditions, but that the exemption would encompass all of Anchorage and not one specific area. Rivera added that the Municipal Traffic Engineer has incredible flexibility to turn the ban on or off based on the public safety needs.
“I commend the people who brought this forward, it’s a good effort but the collateral damage and the potential for it is more than I can support at this time,” Anchorage Assembly member Fred Dyson said.
If winter weather conditions exist in the Valley that have not affected Anchorage, studded tire users would still be subject to fines.
“The ordinance gives the municipal traffic engineer broad flexibility to respond to conditions as (and however) they emerge, but I would expect we would chiefly be reacting to conditions within the municipality,” Falsey said.
Vanessa DeBach with Diversified Tire classified her tire changeover customers into three categories, those who prepare prior to snowfall, those who react to snowfall with dire need for studs, and those who slip and slide around for much of the winter before deciding that they’ve had enough. The rush of changeover season represents a large portion of the business done at Diversified, requiring extra hires for changing tires.
“You’re going to knock out some of those pre planners and you’re going to end up with a little bit more chaos,” DeBach said.
The Anchorage Assembly vote on AO 19-131 on Tuesday was opposed by Weddleton, Constant, and Crystal Kennedy. Zaletel, Rivera, Petersen, Quinn-Davidson, Forrest Dunbar and Suzanne LaFrance voted in favor of the date change.
“The thing about climate change is it may be changing warmer this year, but it we don’t know what it’ll be next year,” Petersen said.
How and when winter begins in Southcentral Alaska is indefinite, but Valley residents will have to alter their scheduled tire changeovers in 2020 if they plan to travel to Anchorage.
“Folks from Fairbanks will be exempt because of the amendment we passed. Folks from the Valley will not,” Dunbar said. “I don’t want them to be under the impression that they will not be cited when they are in Anchorage. They need to follow Anchorage laws.”