ANCHORAGE - An effort to transfer the state trails board from the Department of Transportation to another agency could largely gut the panel, according to the board's chairman.
"The immediate effect will be a re-emphasis on building roads and a de-emphasis on alternate transportation like bicycles and pedestrians," said Ron Crenshaw, chair of TRAAK, the Trails and Recreational Access for Alaskans board.
State officials, however, said they are just reorganizing in response to the Legislature's decision to yank money from the trail program.
Then-Gov. Tony Knowles created the board in 1996. Part of its job is to make recommendations to DOT officials on how to improve projects. Crenshaw said the board has been involved with projects such as highway turnouts and bike trails.
But transportation department officials told board members at a meeting last spring that the board has "lost traction" in the Gov. Frank Murkowski era, according to a tape of the meeting. Jeff Ottness, chairman of statewide planning for department, also said that some transportation engineers see the board as a nuisance.
Then, last month, the transportation department said it wanted to put the trails board under the control of the Department of Natural Resources. The governor will make the final decision.
Such a change, according to Crenshaw, would thwart the reasons the trail board was created in the first place.
"The purpose of the TRAAK board was to help DOT understand that transportation is not just cars," Crenshaw told the Anchorage Daily News.
But Walt Sheridan, special assistant to the DOT commissioner, said he expects the board still will make recommendations to his department.
"I don't see any major change here other than organization," he said.
Sheridan said it makes sense to move the board out from under the transportation department.
"Our (trail) program will be so much smaller than it has been in the past," he said.
The Legislature passed a bill this spring requiring transportation officials to spend more federal dollars on roads and less on trails, waysides and other transportation enhancements. Also, trail funding in urban Anchorage and Fairbanks goes through groups other than TRAAK, he said.
The Department of Natural Resources is a better place for the board because it has a federal requirement to have such an advisory group, Sheridan said. And much of the TRAAK board's job is to oversee trail grant programs that are in the natural resources department and not DOT, he said.