Research shows studded tires cost the state millions of dollars in road maintenance every year

Winter tires without studs are becoming more popular in Alaska, while some drivers choose to forgo winter tires altogether. (Abbey Collins, Alaska Public Media)

Winter tires without studs are increasingly popular in Alaska. But many drivers still roll with studs.

A new report finds that over the next 20 years, the road maintenance related to studded tire use will cost the state way more than what it takes in from fees drivers pay to use them.

When it comes to winter tires, Alaskans like Bryce Mecum have many different opinions.

Mecum, 34, was born and raised in Juneau. He’s on his third vehicle — a truck — and he’s moved away from winter tires altogether.

“I just opted not to go with switching out the studs. I just kept the summer tires on,” Mecum said. “And I just put 100 pounds of sandbags in the back. And that seemed to work really well. So I think I’ll probably stick to that for this next winter and just leave the studded tires under a tarp again.”

Meanwhile, Anchorage resident Carolyn Heyman says she relies on studded tires. Heyman lives in Anchorage’s hillside neighborhood, where the steep streets can get really icy. She says when she first moved in, she didn’t have studs.

“For the most part, you know, 90 percent of the time I could get around okay,” Heyman said. “But those really icy days you did slide all over the place. Especially with kids, I have two girls, it just didn’t feel as safe. And there were a couple of times where I did slide into ditches.”

Heyman is not alone. A lot of drivers still use studs. But a household survey conducted by the University of Alaska found more people are going studdless. The survey is part of research into the impacts from studded tire use in the state.

The research was requested by the state and conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage College of Engineering.

Toby Schoewer, with the Institute of Social and Economic Research, conducted the economic analysis.

Schoewer looked at state roads throughout Alaska, and how they are impacted by studded tire use. He compared the amount of money the state receives in revenue from studded tire fees to the costs of road repairs.

What he found: the annual cost of road repairs related to studded tire use is expected to be $13.7 million over the next 20 years. According to the report, that’s 42 times the amount of money the state generates in fees collected in studded tire sales and stud installation.

“The highways that have the largest cost related to that is by far the highways — the Glenn Highway and the Seward Highway. Those receive the most traffic and they’re repaved on a shorter interval over the years,” Schoewer said.

Schoewer says the research takes into account the fact that more people are switching to non-studded winter tires.

“So that really tells you there’s still a lot of cost even though people are switching over – not enough people are switching to non-studded winter tires,” he said.

The report makes several recommendations to the state for reducing costs, ranging from providing education about the safety of non-studded winter tires, to phasing out the allowed use of studs all together.