Public Weighs In On Plan For Northern Access To U-Med District

The city of Anchorage is hoping to build a road through green space in the city’s university area.

It would be provide additional access to one of the busiest business districts in Anchorage, but neighborhood councils in the area are strongly opposed to the new road. And public feedback at a town hall meeting on Tuesday evening was overwhelmingly negative.

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Photo by Josh Edge, APRN - Anchorage.
Photo by Josh Edge, APRN – Anchorage.

Forty people stepped up to the podium on Tuesday night to address a crowd that filled most of the seats in East High School’s commons.

The meeting was hosted by State Senator Bill Wielechowski and Representatives Geran Tarr, Andy Josephson and Max Gruenberg – all Democrats from Anchorage. They heard testimony that had a common theme.

“I am very disturbed by this project,” Helen Nienhueser, an area resident since 1969, said. “And I’m also very disturbed by the process that we have gone through to get this $20 million for this.”

“It was a backroom deal that happened in the closing moments of the legislature with all the local representatives opposing it.”

According to Senator Wielechowski, the “backroom deal” Nienhueser refers to is a $20 million allocation from the state that was added to the capital budget by House Finance Committee Co-Chair Bill Stoltze – a Republican from Chugiak – in the closing days of the legislative session.

“There was just an uproar from the legislators in the area,” Wielechowski said. “[There] were many conversations with him and his staff urging him to take it out.”

“There were motions made on the floor to strip it out and it was not something that the legislators in the area wanted or felt was needed quite frankly.”

There weren’t enough votes on the floors of the House or Senate to nix the funding.

Wielechowski says it is a case of politicians from outside Anchorage mandating a project that area residents have largely opposed for decades.

“It really is, I think, a slap in the face to the local community to completely disregard the will and desire of the community,” Wielechowski said.

Many of those who spoke at the town hall were in favor of a “no-build” option, but the project’s manager, Eric Miyashiro, says the state favors a road.

“It didn’t really meet the purpose, or the goal, of the project, which was to improve access to kind of Northeast Anchorage,” he said.

Miyashiro also says there is a disconnect between what U-Med businesses want and what nearby communities want.

“We have gone to all the community councils in the area and a lot of folks have real concerns about the project on the community councils and are not in favor of it, but on the other hand we have all the major institutions inside the U-Med district that are right in the middle of developing the project,” Miyashiro said.

One-million dollars was previously allocated to the project for preliminary engineering and environmental work.

According to Miyashiro, the recent $20 million dollar allocation might be enough to completely finish the road – depending on which of four options for the road are chosen.

“The two routes that are further east, those would probably be routes that would have four lanes and we would probably be short a little bit of money on those,” he said.

The engineering company DOWL HKM is currently working on the preliminary engineering, environmental, right-of-way and utility needs as well as cost estimates for the four different routes.

Miyashiro says this preliminary phase should be complete by the end of December.

After that, a steering committee will take the preliminary findings and comments from the public into account to decide on the preferred route.