In Alpena County operators of off- road vehicles are permitted to use them on the shoulders of county roads, but if a new bill proposed passes through the Michigan House and Senate, riders also may be able to ride on the side of state highways.
Senate Bill 1020 proposes amendments be made to the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act that would allow counties and townships to pass ordinances that would make it legal for vehicles such as four-wheelers to utilize sections of the state trunkline to get from one place or another. Currently such roads are off limits to ORVs and operators can be issued tickets if they even travel a short distance. Alpena County Commissioner Cam Habermehl said he learned about the proposed regulation change recently and in his opinion if it passes, could be a benefit for the riders who only use ORVs to travel a sort distance.
"I think it essentially would be a good thing, because right now people can't ride on any section of M-32 or M-65," Habermehl said. "Some one may have a piece of land just a little ways down the road from where they live, but they can't ride there. They have to load their ORV on a trailer, drive there and then unload it again. This would allow them to just drive there."
The bill also could have a positive effect on the small businesses that operate on the highways. Habermehl said people may choose to ride their ORVs to local stores or restaurants that are close by.
"A person may just want to jump on their four-wheeler and run to the store to get a gallon of milk or stop to get a bite to eat and not have to take a car or truck," Habermehl said. "The sad thing is if they do that now they will get a ticket. I don't know if the impact would be huge, but it would most certainly have benefits for the business owners."
When the county decided to allow use of its roads to ORV traffic it set a 25 mph speed limit and Habermehl said he has not been made aware of any problems or significant damage to the roads. Road commission Managing Director Larry Orcutt said there is some impact on the county roads, but nothing serious.
"Since it was approved we have not seen a significant impact," Orcutt said. "Sure there is a little wear on the gravel on the shoulder and in the ditches, but that would be there if it were legal or not. I have been discussing this topic with other entities around the state and everyone seems to agree that speeds in access of 25 mph can cause the damage, but at that speed the impact would be minimal."
Orcutt said residents who would like to use their ORV to commute would find it hard to go a great distance because of how the road system is set up. He said if the law passed it would make things simpler for riders.
"Right now it is difficult for someone to take an ORV from one place to another, because there really aren't any local, county roads that will allow people to get to certain areas without going on the highway," Orcutt said. "There are limits to the travel people can do on an ORV and by utilizing the state roads it would help them be able to get to the other county roads."
The state also is considering having a pair of free ORV weekends annually. They would correspond with the free fishing weekend the state has promoted for many years. The rider of an ORV during these weekends would have all of the rights a licensed rider would have for the duration of the weekend.
The bill was introduced to the Senate and has been referred to the committee of transportation for its recommendation.
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689.