Record Numbers Turn Out to Testify Against Anchorage Mega-Projects

The government body that handles transportation across Anchorage saw its largest turnout since at least 2003 for public testimony against two large infrastructure projects.

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Members of the Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation System, or AMATS, took more than two hours of public testimony from 38 of Anchorage residents opposed to the proposed Bragaw Extension, as well as the Knik Arm Bridge–with dozens more signed in to the meeting.

The high turnout came in part from a mobilization effort by neighborhood groups and development advocates who have opposed the two projects for years, even decades in some cases. They held a small rally of about 25 people outside City Hall before the evening’s meeting.

A few people spoke on behalf of the projects, including LeeAnne Garrick with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium–one of the large institutions in the U-Med District supporting the road extension. Garrick testified that the seconds or minutes saved in transit time from the new road could be a matter of life of death for emergency vehicles bringing patients to the area’s trauma centers.

The testimony does little to affect decisions about the city’s long-term planning. Right now, AMATS is hurrying to finish an interim plan that is largely a stop-gap measure to keep from lapsing on Federal compliance standards.

Transportation Planning Manager Craig Lyon says next year AMATS will overhaul the comprehensive document that determines how Anchorage will spend more than $4 billion on infrastructure over the next 20 years as it drafts a plan looking to goals for the year 2040.

“We’re going to be looking at all the projects in there relatively soon,” Lyon said after the meeting. “We’re close to being able to say ‘let’s look at all the projects in here, and do we still want to do all these?”’

But not everyone agrees that even the interim plan should proceed without heavy revisions. Lois Epstein, who used to serve on AMATS and helped organize Tuesday’s rally thinks a December deadline is distant enough to alter the document without risking a freeze on Federal funding.

“There is enough time,” Epstein said. “We’re not going to need to worry about Federal approvals until the end of the year–that’s many months away, so let’s hurry up and get things moving.”

Epstein said the high turnout at Tuesday’s meeting was evidence the public’s will is clearly in favor of removing and de-prioritizing certain projects.

Officials in charge of making planning decisions–including the mayor and members of the Anchorage Assembly–meet Thursday at 1:30pm at City Hall for an update on the city’s interim plan. However, they will not be taking any action on the controversial projects.