SB 50 seeks to raise studded tire user fees from $5 to $50

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Photo credit: Levi Brown

A bill seeking to raise the per-tire user fee from $5 to $50 on winter tires is sparking emotion for Anchorage commuters. The user fee has been in place since 2004 at $5.

Alaska Senate Resources Committee chair Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, proposed senate bill 50 in an effort to help fix Alaska’s rutted roads.

“Every week when I’m home I drive from Anchorage from my home on hillside to Eagle River to pick up my five grandchildren. My husband and I play with the kids every Saturday. So we drive to Eagle River pick them up and then take them back home in the evening,” Giessel said. “The Glenn Highway between Anchorage and Eagle River is dangerously rutted.”

Giessel looked into factors contributing to ruts on Alaska’s highways.

“The major contributing factor that I found in research is studded tires. This is a high velocity, high volume strip of asphalt, and all these factors create ruts,” Giessel said.

Ruts create a danger for commuters all year-round.

“You have difficulty maintaining control. It’s not just in the winter, in the summer when it’s raining and the ruts fill up with water then hydroplaning becomes an issue,” Giessel said.

Not everyone is convinced that an exponential raise in the per-tire user fee is the answer to Alaska’s road problems.

“I gather that the reasoning behind the increase is to help fix the bad and rutty roads that are caused by the studs. I would be accepting of a slight increase by maybe $5, $10. With the original proposed amount, the amount of studded tires in circulation will drop significantly, so only the richer folks could afford them,” Matthew Newkirk, UAA logistics student and studded tire user, said. “In that case, banning studded tires altogether would be preferable over the significant increase, so that no one is contributing to the ruts.”

Others are worried that, while a user fee increase may decrease ruts, low-income families will hurt from the legislation.

“A tax on the tires is really just hurting poor families. For most people, and I think it’s hard for the wealthy elite of this state to understand, getting into a serious car accident is a huge financial burden. Even coming up with the money for a deductible can be a financial nightmare. For low-income families even dealing with tire change season is a financial burden… We need these low-income families to have access to transportation during the winter,” Kieth Greinier, Anchorage resident, said.

While some Anchoragites use all-season tires or summer tires year-round, some residents think studded tires are essential for winter driving safety and should not be taxed so heavily.

“I have studded tires which I’ll be replacing this year and seeing this tax hike makes me upset, especially since I feel studded tires are essential, especially with the type of road conditions we have in Alaska,” Harrison Jennings, UAA music student, said. “They’ve saved me in situations where if I didn’t have my studs, I would’ve easily gotten into an accident, or worse.”

All the money from the user fee goes specifically towards Alaska’s Department of Transportation to fix rutted roads.

A hearing for senate bill 50 will be held on Feb. 23.