Some say an Anchorage freeway connecting the Glenn and Seward highways is the remedy for traffic jams, long commutes and shortcuts that pull cars into neighborhoods unsuited for drive-through traffic.
Others call it a narrow solution that fails to recognize the need for increased and improved public transportation, traffic lanes dedicated to buses and car-poolers, as well as road needs elsewhere in the city.
But just about everyone agrees the project, if it happens, will be one of the biggest in Anchorage history.
The price tag? Almost $600 million, a figure that is already three years old. By the time construction would begin -- between 2013 and 2015 -- the cost could hit three-quarters of a billion dollars, maybe more.
"It's a giant project for Anchorage in terms of the amount of people it will take and the amount of equipment it will take," said Jim Childers, the project manager for the state Department of Transportation.
"This one is big in the complexity of it, because it needs to be built in the busiest part of Anchorage."
The goal is a high-speed link with no traffic signals that would eliminate stop-and-go traffic for drivers trying to get from one end of town to the other or wanting to skirt city traffic on their way out of town.
"We need to have a way of moving traffic," Anchorage Assemblyman Chris Birch said. "If you're one of the tens of thousands living north of Anchorage and wanting to go to the Kenai Peninsula or Girdwood or Whittier, you're basically routed through town."
Even people going from one part of the city to another would get there faster, planners say.
"It'd be wonderful to drive across Anchorage and not hit a stoplight," Birch said.
Though it's not part of the project, the Bragaw interchange now being built accomplishes some of that goal by eliminating a traffic signal at Bragaw and the Glenn Highway. A highway-to-highway link would bring more of the same to the city.
Planners are careful to say no route has been picked yet. They say they'll present a variety of options before the end of the year.
Chances are good one of the choices -- possibly the preferred choice -- will be what's already being called the Fairview Freeway.
Plans for a Fairview route were floated a couple of years ago and featured a section of underground highway.
Already four pieces of property in Fairview have been acquired by the state -- a log home, two vacant lots and the old Green Connection building on 15th Avenue near Ingra.
More property, including homes and businesses, would almost certainly have to go to make room for a high-speed link, whether it runs through Fairview or somewhere else.
"The reality," Childers said, "is there is going to be a lot of impact wherever it goes."
In 2003, when the idea to connect the Glenn and Seward highways with an eight-lane freeway under and across Fairview began to gain momentum, Darrel Hess was incensed.
"You'll see some of us, including myself, out there chaining ourselves to bulldozers," the former president of the Fairview Community Council vowed at the time.
Today, Hess has changed his view and is one of many eagerly pushing the plan.
"Connecting the two highways would remove 200,000 trips per day from Tudor, 15th, Gambell and Muldoon," Hess said, citing statistics used by project planners.
Hess is part of a 30-member citizens advisory committee formed recently to allow public participation in the project.
He said he changed his mind when DOT and other planners adjusted the project after listening to the concerns of Fairview residents.
The neighborhood was geographically divided back in 1961 by a project that turned Ingra and Gambell streets into multi-lane, highway-like thoroughfares. The result? Increased traffic and big streets that made it dangerous to cross from one side of Fairview to the other.
"The neighborhood has been divided ever since," Hess said. "You've got kids (on the west side) who can't take advantage of the rec center because they have to cross those streets, and you have people (on the east) who have to walk across those streets to get their groceries."
Once Hess was convinced a highway link could undo those negative impacts -- in part by narrowing Ingra and Gambell -- he jumped on board.
"It would improve public safety," Hess said, "and reunite the neighborhood."
IS IT THE BEST SOLUTION?
Not everyone is crazy about connecting the highways.
Those lukewarm about the link say the plan doesn't acknowledge the role public transportation needs to play in Anchorage's future, whether that means a better bus system or a light rail for commuters coming from the Valley.
With a price that could approach a billion dollars in state and federal money, will there be anything left for public transportation?
"Can we afford both?" asked economist Pat Burden at one of two public meetings held last week to spread the word about the project.
"Five-dollar, four-dollar gas -- that's a scenario we have to consider. We have to provide the public with better mass transit."
Ainslie Phillips, an East Anchorage resident, said she likes the highway connection in theory.
"But it needs enormous fine-tuning," she said. "A light rail needs to be an integral part of this.
"And the Glenn and Muldoon interchange needs to be fixed now. When that mall opens, it's going to be a nightmare," she said, referring to the CIRI-built mall expected to attract thousands to northeast Anchorage with a Target, Best Buy and movie theaters.
"The state should step in with some of its billions of dollars in oil money and get Muldoon redesigned and rebuilt now."
John Weddleton, a business owner who is president of the Anchorage Citizens Coalition, worries the highway-to-highway project will suck resources away from too many other things.
"What else can we do in Anchorage with three-quarters of a billion dollars? The list is long," he said. "You could do some serious stuff.
"This is a solution for $2.20-a-gallon gas, not $4.50-a-gallon gas. We don't have good balance here. You've got to have trails that connect, buses that work.
"We don't see this as the broader transportation solution. ... For that stretch of road, it'd be pretty cool. But is it the best thing for Anchorage? It doesn't come close."
A LONG WAY TO GO
Plenty of people disagree with Weddleton, including those who decide what projects get funded with state and federal money.
The highway-to-highway connection topped the list of new projects on the city's long-range transportation plan unveiled in 2006.
Mayor Mark Begich is a big fan of the idea. He and former Gov. Frank Murkowski signed a deal two years ago saying the city and state would work together on $1.2 billion worth of projects. The biggest of them is the highway link.
So far, the state has provided $10 million and the federal government has provided $8 million. It's being spent on an environmental analysis and the planning of proposed routes.
There's a long way to go before any dirt gets dug. The earliest projected date for actual construction is 2013.
Before then, there's sure to be fights over proposed routes, once planners identify them.
"One may have more impacts on homes," Hess said. "One might have more impacts on green spaces."
Kristy and Don Crosby, who live in Fairview, are eager to see something reduce noise and traffic in their neighborhood and make it a friendlier place for walkers and bikers. They think a highway link would do that by diverting traffic from neighborhoods to a freeway, hopefully an underground one.
The Crosbys routinely see huge tractor-trailers on roads designated for "light industry."
Kristy worries about kids who have to cross Gambell or Ingra to get from one part of the neighborhood to another. Don worries about himself, and others who try to cross on bikes.
"Trying to get across Ingra, holy moly! It's like, 'Get ready, get set, pedal fast!' " he said. "If they started digging tomorrow, it wouldn't hurt my feelings a bit."
Find Beth Bragg online at adn.com/contact/bbragg or call 257-4309.
WHAT IS H2H? A highway-to-highway project with the goal of connecting the Seward and Glenn highways
HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN PLANNED? The project has been part of Anchorage transportation planning since as early as 1972.
STATUS: The project now begins the environmental review process.
WHERE: The study area, alternatives and end points for the project will be determined in a series of meetings this summer and fall.
WHEN: The review document will be completed by 2011.
EXPENSE: The cost of the project was estimated to be $581 million in 2005.
Connecting Glenn and Seward highways
Connecting the Glenn and Seward highways has been part of Anchorage transportation planning since at least 1972. The idea to build a high-speed, no-stoplight freeway gained momentum in 2006 when the city made the link a top priority in its long-range transportation plan.
Why a freeway link?
Traffic is expected to get worse as Anchorage continues to grow -- and as the Valley continues to grow with people who commute to Anchorage.
Statistics compiled in 2006 by the state Department of Transportation show the average daily traffic on the Ingra-Gambell couplet is 54,000 vehicles. Near Merrill Field on the Glenn Highway -- a common route for people traveling between downtown and points north -- there are 50,400 a day.
The long-range transportation plan says traffic in those areas is expected to exceed 100,000 a day by the year 2025. A highway connection would move traffic away from existing streets, reducing the number of cars in busy corridors like Ingra-Gambell by 65,000 a day, the plan says.
A 2005 estimate put the price at $581 million. By the time construction could begin, in 2013 at the earliest, the price will be much higher.
Today -- Presentation to the Chamber of Commerce's business and economic development committee, 11:30 a.m., 1016 W. Sixth Ave. The public is welcome to attend and listen.
Mid-September -- Meeting of the Citizen Highway User Advisory Committee (CHUAC); details to be announced later.
Late October -- Public meetings and expected presentation of proposed routes; details to be announced later.
Ongoing through 2011-- Environmental analysis.
2013-2015 -- Construction begins.
Want to comment?
Public comments are requested by Aug. 31, although more will be sought once route alternatives are made public.
Online comments may be made on a form available at www.highway2highway.com/public_comment.asp.
Comments can be e-mailed to email@example.com.
Comments can be faxed to 1-907-644-2022.
Go to the project Web site at www.highway2highway.com