University, hospital and transportation officials unanimously selected the most direct north-south road through the University-Medical District as the preferred route Thursday morning, moving one step closer to construction of the controversial connection.
The two-lane road will link Bragaw Street and Elmore Road, aiming to ease access and unsnarl increasingly heavy traffic in the area. It comes with a preliminary price tag of $19.4 million, and at this point includes three roundabouts, three pedestrian bridges and a 30 mph speed limit.
But Stewart Osgood, president of DOWL HKM, was careful to note that the design is "literally at about 20 percent." Things could change, overcrossings may become underpasses and roundabouts could turn into traffic signals, he said.
"There's much more work to do," Osgood said.
Planning officials still must apply for wetland permits, take public comment and meet with community councils. The road has been discussed for years, and three area community councils have passed resolutions against it in the last month.
Still, Osgood said, it's "full speed ahead" unless funding disappears. Many others want the road, he said. About 11 percent of Anchorage employees work in the U-Med District, and more than 40 percent of the people who come and go there travel from the north or east, where access is limited, he said.
The three other routes that either curved through Alaska Pacific University's campus or snaked between buildings at the University of Alaska Anchorage were eliminated on grounds that they didn't meet the needs of the project or UAA's master plan, Osgood said. All of the big landowners have agreed on the preferred route, including UAA, Alaska Pacific University, Providence Alaska Medical Center, the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Southcentral Foundation and the Municipality of Anchorage.
UAA owns most of the land that the new road will sit on. In a sort of swap, DOWL HKM, contracted by the state Department of Transportation, included design elements that UAA desired and the university waived right of way charges.
At the university's request, the chosen route incorporates a roundabout in the middle of an open area to accommodate UAA growth, along with a roundabout connecting to Alumni Drive near the Fine Arts Building and a bridge that will link the ski trail along the power line, Osgood said.
"UAA's cooperation in this project is essential," he said.
Kit Duke, the associate vice president of facilities and land management with the University of Alaska, said it's more cost effective to build the roundabouts now than later.
DOT also must purchase a sliver of land from APU but that price hasn't been set yet, said Eric Miyashiro, DOT project manager.
The $19.4 million cost breaks down to $15.8 million for construction, $1 million for environmental mitigation, $2.6 million for utility relocation and zero for the right of way, Osgood said.
The $1 million will mostly pay permitting costs and the Great Land Trust fee for building on wetlands, said Jim Amundsen with DOT.
"We really need to get this alignment decision behind us so we can go forward with the permitting process," Osgood said.
A display at the Thursday meeting painted a picture of the road as an 80-foot right of way with streetlights, a 6-foot-wide sidewalk and a 10-foot-wide multi-use path. Bicycle lanes will run on both sides of the road.
But the long-talked-about route certainly has its critics. The Airport Heights Community Council passed two resolutions against the road in 2013 alone.
Neighbors are worried about interrupted ski and walking trails, reduced green space and traffic hazards for students at the nearby East High and Russian Jack Elementary schools, said John Whitlock, president of the Airport Heights Community Council, said on Wednesday.
"It's an issue that's constantly on our radar," Whitlock said.
Osgood said, "It might feel like a park but this isn't a park; it's UAA property."
At the state level, Sen. Berta Gardner and Rep. Andy Josephson, both Anchorage Democrats, filed legislation in January to stall the road by stripping the project of its already-allocated $20 million in funding. The bills have not yet been given a hearing.
"They'll roll forward with their plan and we'll see what happens with our plan," Gardner said in an interview Wednesday. "But I'm not actually optimistic that we will succeed in blocking that road."
Conflict has swirled around the potential for a road through the University-Medical District for decades. Former Mayor Tom Fink began the conversation in the late 1980s and early '90s.
It wasn't until Mayor Dan Sullivan included a request for funding of the road in the city's annual priority capital budget requests that the project picked up speed. For the first time, UAA was on board. The state allocated $20 million for the project.
DOT expects road design to be finalized by this fall and construction to start by winter. The road should be completed by fall 2015.
A public meeting on the preferred route is scheduled for Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m. at East High.
For more information, visit dowlhkm.com.
U-MED NORTHERN ACCESS ROAD PUBLIC MEETING:
When: Tuesday, Feb. 18
Where: East High School Commons Area
6 to 7 p.m. -- Open house
7 to 7:20 p.m. -- Presentation
7:20 to 7:45 p.m. -- Question and answer
7:45 to 8 p.m. -- Open house