Focus on real transportation issues

My Turn

Posted: Friday, June 13, 2003

Last Sunday, the ever self-possessed John MacKinnon authored a column panning trails and touting highway safety. MacKinnon, the current deputy commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, concluded his little diatribe with comments calculated to be cutting and aimed at trail users. One wonders why Mr. MacKinnon was compelled to author a column reiterating the obvious and needlessly blasting trail use and enjoyment.

Mr. MacKinnon's technique of pitting trail use against highway safety is silly. The public expects and should receive safe transportation. The public obviously desires and should receive safe trails. Given tough economic times, the real issue is how can we stretch increasingly scarce state and federal dollars to provide the proper mix of safe transportation projects.

Mr. MacKinnon rants about "people who complain their heath will suffer" in the absence of trails and carps about people who may need to "drive to a trail so they can take a walk." He then concludes in an odd way that these same folks are somehow responsible for a lack of "highway safety and capacity improvements." There is, of course, no basis for these peculiar observations and no justification for spewing the rhetoric in public.

Maybe Mr. MacKinnon should stop writing public invectives based on his feelings and get on with doing his job. The Department of Transportation is faced with numerous daunting tasks. What the public needs is a leaner, more efficient department that is responsive and productive. The long-studied and once-delayed study of Lynn Canal transportation options is an example of where Mr. MacKinnon might place some emphasis. Instead of whining about trails, how about accelerating the decision-making process for the Lynn Canal corridor? Current plans for Lynn Canal call for a decision to be made in late 2004 or possibly early 2005. Given the huge body of data already gathered on the Lynn Canal proposals, intelligent efforts must be made to accelerate the decision-making process.

Or, if Mr. MacKinnon is really serious about highway safety, how about adopting a thoughtful regulatory scheme that allows the regional directors of the Department of Transportation to allow or remove studded snow tires based on actual driving and climate conditions? From a safety perspective, it's long been clear that Alaska's roads are being unnecessarily trashed by studded snow tires. If DOT is really into safety, adopt a program that calls for studs to be used when conditions are warranted. Having one set of studded tire requirements for the entire state is ridiculous and is akin to having one set of fishing or hunting rules from Ketchikan to Barrow.

Numerous projects and activities require the attention of the Department of Transportation. For too long, state government has been throttled by process-oriented bureaucrats intent on studying projects unlikely to be built. Instead of whining about false issues like trail users, Mr. MacKinnon should get on with building transportation infrastructure that will serve each and every Alaskan. And please, spare us from further self-absorbed ruminations on topics that do not matter.

• Joe Geldhof of Juneau is a lawyer whose clients include the marine engineers union.

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