Students call for action, public comment on U-Med Access Road

Students at the University of Alaska – Anchorage are trying to motivate their classmates and the community to get informed about a controversial proposed infrastructure project — the U-Med District Northern Access Road. They say the public still has a chance to shape the project’s future.

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The planned-but-not-yet-permitted U-Med District Road would cut through what is now woods and wetlands to connect Bragaw Street to Elmore right between the UAA and APU campuses. The legislature set aside $20 million for the project in 2013. UAA Vice Chancellor for Administrative Services Bill Spindle said they are still negotiating what the university would get in exchange for the land to build the road.

“You know, if we can do value, instead of money, you know, an extra roundabout, an extra cross over, that’s a benefit to us,” he said.

The proposed preferred route for the U-Med District Northern Access Road.
The proposed preferred route for the U-Med District Northern Access Road.

Spindle said the plans for the road and even the exact route are not set in stone. And that’s the major point that students from the Environmental Planning and Problem-Solving class want to get across: the U-Med District Road is not a done deal.

Senior Jennifer Howell says the class is hosting an educational forum because they want students and community members to have the tools to participate in the upcoming Army Corps of Engineers public comment period.

“Cause it’s a little bit more than saying, ‘Oh, I think this is a good idea or a bad idea.’ The requirement is they are substantive comments, and that’s been a learning process as students in the classroom.”

Howell explains the Corps is involved because the proposed project involves filling in wetlands. She says the class isn’t taking a position on the topic, but they want people to be aware of the process.

“We don’t really know what the Corps of Engineers is going to say, and that’s why it’s really cool that there is a public process still and it’s really important for us as students in the UAA community to actually get involved in that. It’s not a done deal. And we have a voice. If we don’t use the voice, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. But we do have a voice and it’s important that we get involved.”

Howell said most students don’t know about the project, so the class is inviting speakers from the UAA administration, like Spindle, to talk about why the road is necessary and to answer questions.

“Well, this road for us is all about safety,” Spindle said.

Spindle explained the road will reduce traffic problems on UAA Drive, move cars to the outskirts of campus, and the roundabouts would slow traffic. The University’s 2013 master plan shows potential roads extending from them toward potential future projects built in the area that is now used for outdoor recreation. But Spindle downplays those plans.

“You can look on the master plan, you can go all they way back and see all kinds of things that we’ve dreamed about putting there. But the reality is right today that we don’t see any of them. But that doesn’t mean we won’t at some point because that is land for university and that’s the intent of the state. But again, we’re very sensitive to the needs of the community, the conservation qualities of that area, and we will always take that into account.”

The student-led meeting will take place at the UAA Library on Tuesday at 5:30 pm. The Corps public comment period will begin once the Department of Transportation submits the permit applications.