With route due soon, 2 lawmakers try to block U-Med road

Tegan Hanlon

Two Anchorage state legislators filed identical bills Friday to stall the U-Med District Northern Access road by stripping the project of its already-allocated $20 million in funding.

Sen. Berta Gardner and Rep. Andy Josephson, both Democrats, made the last-ditch effort to repeal state money from a project both say their constituents oppose and deem as unnecessary in budget-strapped times.

"It's an awful lot of money," Gardner said. "Is that our top priority? If we have $20 or $42 million available, is this where we want to put it? I don't think so."

But the state Department of Transportation isn't slowing down plans for the controversial north-south road that would link Elmore Road and Northern Lights Boulevard through the University-Medical District, and a key Republican state senator was skeptical that the measure would go anywhere in Juneau.

Officials have already scheduled meetings and reserved rooms for the steering committee to select a preferred route Feb. 13 and a meeting for public comment Feb. 18, said Eric Miyashiro, DOT project manager.

"Until any kind of funding is actually repealed, we will continue," he said.

Sen. Kevin Meyer, an Anchorage Republican who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, said a majority of legislators, including himself, support the controversial connection.

"Normally bills like this don't actually get passed," he said. "The opportunity to deny the funding for this road was last year when we were doing the capital budget."

The House Finance Committee inserted the $20 million for the road project into last year's capital budget passed by both the House and the Senate, Meyer said.

Josephson offered an amendment on the House floor to remove funding in 2013 but it failed.

The request for state money last year originated with Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan, who included it in the city's annual priority capital budget request. The Assembly voted on the list of projects as a total package and sent it to the capital.

The U-Med road has triggered waves of controversy since former Mayor Tom Fink initiated the conversation in the late '80s and early '90s.

Community councils have passed resolutions opposing the road. The Assembly voted down a move to reconsider accepting federal funding for the connection in October.

"It's a big, big issue," Josephson said.

He said residents fear a road will compromise wetlands, trails and green space.

Miyashiro said it's likely a two-lane road, less than a mile in length, will be built. He said he expects costs to fall under the $20 million budget, although early, leaked estimates pinned some routes at nearly double that.

The University of Alaska Anchorage, Alaska Pacific University, Providence Alaska Medical Center and the Alaska Native Medical Center have all come out in support of a road.

Gardner's and Josephson's bills have been referred to committee.

Reach Tegan Hanlon at thanlon@adn.com or 257-4589.