Legislation trims transportation regulation

In typical Alaska fashion and rightfully so, oil and gas bills ruled the headlines during the latest legislative session. But several quieter pieces of legislation were passed to simplify regulations on the state’s transportation industry.

House Bill 46 sponsored by Rep. Dan Saddler, R-Eagle River, will waive the commercial drivers license, or CDL, skills test for qualifying veterans who drove large vehicles in the military. The bill was lauded as a way to ease the transition to the civilian for military personnel.

Alaska Trucking Association Executive Director Aves Thompson said the legislation pertains to veterans who received formal training within the last 90-120 days, depending on the type of vehicle they drove and the class license they are applying for.

“Military drivers are some of the best trained in the country,” Thompson said.

The current CDL test contains a skills or road test and a written portion. Thompson said the written part of the test will still apply to make sure drivers know all of the state driving laws and regulations, particularly those that apply only to commercial drivers.

He estimated that roughly 30 states already have similar exemptions in place and added that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration supports this type of deregulation.

HB 46 passed the House and Senate by wide margins and is expected to be signed by Gov. Sean Parnell.

Ultimately, each company will still be able to administer their own skills test as part of the hiring process, Thompson said. Such tests are common practice to assure prospective drivers are comfortable working the vehicles and conditions they will see on a daily basis if they’re hired.

Sponsored by Doug Isaacson, R-North Pole, and Wes Keller, R-Wasilla, House Bill 15 will redefine what a commercial vehicle is in Alaska when it goes into effect in July 8.

Under HB 15 trucks or vans dedicated to intrastate commerce weighing less than 14,000 pounds will not be subject to commercial vehicle requirements. Previously, only vehicles under 10,000 pounds were exempt.

Thompson said HB 15 is necessary as large passenger vans and light and medium-duty trucks get larger. The bill, he said, means many businesses will no longer need to pay for medical exams for drivers, log driving hours or do daily inspections on trucks and vans similar to those some people use as their personal transportation.

“(HB 15) relieves the group of small vehicles from unnecessary regulation. It’s common sense,” Thompson said.

He added that the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities backed the regulatory change.

John McConnochie and his wife PeggyAnn own Cycle Alaska in Juneau, and John McConnochie attended the governor’s signing of HB 15 on April 9. He said Cycle Alaska operates several 15-passenger vans it uses to transport clients on its bike tours of the area around Juneau. McConnochie said trailers hitched to the vans to haul the bikes push the vans over the previous 10,000-pound weight limit.

With an average crew of about 20 drivers, McConnochie said HB 15 would save Cycle Alaska about $5,000 a year in medical exam costs. He added that while he plans to continue daily vehicle inspections, he’s glad to be rid of the associated paperwork.

“I understand the need for the regulations for buses with 50 people, but the time and paperwork for a business like ours really adds up,” McConnochie said.

On the infrastructure side of transportation, Thompson said he was particularly pleased with $7 million for Dalton Highway maintenance being included in the state’s fiscal 2014 capital budget. He said DOT spends $15 million to $20 million annually to maintain the Dalton.

DOT officials have said the highway will be able to absorb increased traffic from an anticipated liquefied natural gas trucking operation to Fairbanks. Thompson said increased North Slope oil exploration hoped for after the passage of the oil tax reform bill, Senate Bill 21, will add traffic to the road as well.

Typically, money is not dedicated to individual roadways unless it is for a specific capital project.

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected].

04/25/2013 - 8:03am