UAA says it supports the controversial Bragaw-Elmore extension

0224 Bragaw Extension_Bragaw and Northern lights intersection trail head
View of oncoming traffic at the intersection of Northern Lights Boulevard and Bragaw Street. (Shiri Segal/Alaska Public Media)

The University of Alaska Anchorage reaffirmed its support for the newly-revived Elmore-Bragaw extension project on Friday.

Meanwhile, other big employers in the area haven’t weighed in with full support of the highly controversial road.

The proposed road, formally known as the Northern Access to the University Medical District project, is a decades-old plan to connect Bragaw Street and Elmore Road through the U-Med district, largely on land owned by UAA. 

In 2013, stakeholders in the U-Med district — including UAA, Alaska Pacific University, Providence Alaska Medical Center, Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium — signed an agreement supporting the road connection.

But the administration of then-Mayor Ethan Berkowitz killed the project in late 2015, citing vehement opposition from the neighboring community councils and a greater need for investment at the Port of Alaska. 

Now the project is back, with $22 million in potential funding included in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s recent bond package proposal. And once again, UAA is on board.

“We support greater access to UAA and the U-Med district through the Northern Access Project,” said Marci Suazo, a spokesperson for UAA. “The university intends to stand by its position of support that it’s held in the past.”

UAA said the project would improve access to the east side of campus, reduce congestion and make campus safer for pedestrians. 

Meanwhile, UAA’s neighbors are more ambivalent.

Providence, APU and ANTHC all sent statements last week acknowledging they supported the road development in the past, but that they need to see more details before offering their support.

UAA initially issued a similar statement last week, before coming out in support Friday afternoon.

An economic development committee launched by Mayor Dave Bronson recommended the road project among its priorities in January as a way to encourage development in the area.

Mike Robbins, a member of the committee and director of the Anchorage Community Development Authority, said the road would help grow U-Med hospitals and encourage commercial development.

Currently, Robbins said, “if you want to go have a sandwich, for example, and you happen to work at the hospital, you have to go two miles out of your way. There’s just nothing there.”

But the Bronson administration says it’s primarily pushing the Bragaw extension revival as a way to reduce emergency vehicle drive times.  

“So instead of having to go through UAA Drive or kind of snake through that part, ambulances or emergency responders could just go straight through and get to those ER rooms quicker,” said Bronson spokesman Hans Rodvik.

Rodvik said the time savings would be 5-7 minutes, but could not provide evidence for that estimate. 

Carolyn Ramsey is the chair for Citizens for Responsible Development, a local community group which organized against the extension project. She disputes the argument for faster emergency response, especially with Alaska Regional Hospital a mile and a half away.

“There’s a hospital just to the north. There is no reason that in that big of an emergency situation that ambulance or that person cannot go to Regional Hospital,” she said.

Ramsey also echoed longstanding community concerns about the road extension destroying valued outdoor areas and wetlands along the Chester Creek. Many of the conceptual road designs in a 2011 reconnaissance study show it cutting through a large wooded space with popular trails south of Northern Lights Blvd.

Ramsey said the project is “fixing a problem that doesn’t exist” and called it fiscally irresponsible to bring it up again.

“There are so many more projects around the city that people want, that need to be done,” Ramsey said, arguing the money would be better spent improving infrastructure at the port or downtown, or on revitalizing Fireweed Lane. 

UAA said it supports the project as it was agreed to in 2013 and in another agreement the university signed in 2015. Suazo added that the road should take community concerns.

“If changes are made to the nature or scope of the project that are inconsistent with those [agreements], the University of Alaska’s Board of Regents would need to revisit its support,” she said.

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Kavitha George is the host of Alaska Morning News at Alaska Public Media. She also reports on business, labor and the economy. Reach her at kgeorge@alaskapublic.org.

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