Land may prove too expensive for some U-Med road options

Tegan Hanlon

There's $20 million in state funding and four possible routes on the table for the planned north-south road through the University-Medical District, and two of those routes may cost nearly double the budget.

Officials involved in the design process stressed that those costs are far from finalized. Planners will have to skinny down the preliminary road plans or additional funding will have to be found.

Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said the latter is unlikely from the state with a tight budget anticipated for the next fiscal year.

"I think it's going to be very hard to get additional money for the road, or any road, this session," Meyer said about funding from the capital budget. "We want to keep it under the $2.1 billion that we had last year."

The long-talked-about road will connect Elmore Road and Bragaw Street, some routes in a more roundabout way than others.

The $42 million price tag for the two most eastern, four-lane roads, leaked after Stewart Osgood, DOWL HKM president and project manager, presented on the road's progress at a American Public Works Association's November luncheon. Word of the cost quickly spread, and Osgood said emails began flying into his inbox.

But he said any cost criticism has come too soon.

"The $42 million, it doesn't appear in any report," Osgood said. "I can't stress enough that this is not an unusual circumstance."

Public participation in the road project has rarely waned. Pushback from some Anchorage neighbors and politicians, who fear a road would engulf green space and trails, has been going on for decades.

But earlier this year, the Legislature appropriated $20 million to fund the road at the request of Mayor Dan Sullivan. Suddenly the road -- that has been referred to as the "U-Med District Northern Access Project" and the "Bragaw Extension" -- was fast tracked.

Now, Osgood said his consulting firm, contracted to design the road, is working to map out what the connection will actually look like.

There are still four options and they cut through mostly University of Alaska Anchorage land between Providence Drive and Northern Lights Boulevard. The longest stretch of asphalt is about eight-tenths of a mile, Osgood said.

The two western routes are both two lanes and would intersect the University of Alaska Anchorage's core campus. One four-lane route would directly connect Bragaw Street to Elmore Road, and another four-lane, curved road would link Elmore Road to Northern Lights.

Originally, officials had said they expected the $20 million to cover the costs. But the land is proving to be expensive.

Osgood said negotiations are ongoing with UAA to acquire the right of way. For one of the four-lane roadways, it may cost around $14 million for a 200-foot wide road that spans seven-tenths of a mile, he said. Then there are the costs to move utilities and the environmental mitigation funds to pay to the Great Land Trust -- between $1 million and $3 million -- because much of the land is wetlands, he said.

"The $20 per square foot, that's expensive land, certainly," Osgood said. "And it's caused us to have to go back and look at how much of that land we'd like to acquire."

DOWL HKM isn't going against the University's wishes. UAA is onboard for a north-south connection, but doesn't support the two western routes, said Bill Spindle, vice president for administrative services at UAA.

The road falls in line with the university's master plan and would help with traffic congestion from the new on-campus sports arena, he said. Spindle said UAA favors the direct connection between Bragaw and Elmore .

"Obviously we want this road to work, so the last thing we're going to do is to make it a situation," he said. "That's why there's negotiations, we're going to try to figure out, 'How do we take care of everybody?' "

As far as amenities and lane count go, Osgood said there's room for change.

He said they could move the roadway "just slightly" and avoid utility relocation costs. There's also the chance for the four-lane roads to become two-lane roads, he said. But that wouldn't handle traffic volumes long-term.

"It could mean that we end up with roadways that are marginally acceptable over the planning horizon," Osgood said. Thirty years down the road, the area may need to be looked at again, he said.

The two most eastern routes were planned to service a heavier traffic flow, including traffic generated from Providence Alaska Medical Center and the Alaska Native Medical Center.

There's also still the question of how many pedestrian overpasses there will be, how many underpasses and roundabouts. Multi-use trails, sidewalks and roadway illumination are also under consideration.

"There's a lot of area there where people love to ski and I've said a million times, the last thing we want to do is interrupt the flow," Spindle said.

Steve Gillette, project manager with the city, said any interrupted trails will be made whole.

"Maybe a couple of pedestrian overpasses could be added, maybe a roundabout in the areas," he said. "You know, the options are wide-ranging and we're trying to figure out what the desires of many of the user groups are."

Osgood said there will be at least one roundabout and at least one pedestrian crossing. There will be a new traffic signal at Northern Lights Boulevard and Bragaw Street.

Sen. Meyer said he's unaware of any additional funding requests for the road. He also said Providence , the Native Medical Center, UAA and APU all signed a letter in support of the road before the Legislature approved the funding request.

Providence has come out in favor of a road, saying it "supports the best interest of the community, including shortening the distance for emergency transport," said spokeswoman Ginger Houghton.

The state Department of Transportation and the city, with input from a steering committee and the public, will choose a route by late January or early February. The route will then go up for public comment. After a final selection, a contract will be signed with a construction company and construction is expected to begin in 2015.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at or 257-4589.