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Anchorage

Anchorage's stalled U-Med road project gets another setback

  • Author: Tegan Hanlon
  • Updated: June 16, 2016
  • Published June 15, 2016

If anyone decides to move forward with building the long-controversial road through Anchorage's University-Medical District, they will have to get approval from the city's planning commission again.

Anchorage's Board of Adjustment on Tuesday threw out last year's resolution passed by the city's Planning and Zoning Commission that supported the U-Med District Northern Access Project — a north-south road linking Elmore Road and south Bragaw Street. The commission had passed a resolution in support of the project in the fall of 2015, and then the grassroots Citizens for Responsible Development appealed the commission's decision.

"We filed a roughly 25-page appeal with over 100 pages of citations," said Carolyn Ramsey, an Anchorage resident who chairs the citizens' group that opposes the construction of the road.

As the Board of Adjustments worked toward a decision, a lot changed with the project.

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz pulled the city's support for the U-Med road project in December and the planning came to a halt. Then in May, state lawmakers transferred the $18.8 million in state funding for the project to the University of Alaska's capital budget so it could build the road, instead of the city. Gov. Bill Walker still must sign off on the Legislature's budget.

Tuesday's decision from the Anchorage board means that if the University of Alaska moves forward with the road project, it cannot start exactly where the city left off. It would have to submit another site plan review application to the city's Planning and Zoning Commission. Last year, the approval process took roughly six months.

"It takes the project back one more step," Ramsey said. "It allows for a second look."

Bill Spindle, the University of Alaska Anchorage's vice chancellor for administrative services, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Earlier this year, a UA administrator said the university could not use the nearly $19 million in state funding for anything except the road project.

UAA, Alaska Pacific University and surrounding major medical centers have come out in support of the road, while some neighbors and other critics argue that it would threaten green space, trails and wetlands.

Sean Baski, the previous project manager for the U-Med road project at the Alaska Department of Transportation, said since Berkowitz's announcement, work on the road project has stopped and the contract has been terminated with the consulting firm.

"We have basically archived the project," he said on Wednesday.

There was previously an agreement between DOT and the city that the state department would manage the design and construction of the road project, he said.

Baski said more than 95 percent of the design work on the preferred route was completed and the state department had spent about $2.5 million on the project.

City spokesman Myer Hutchinson said Wednesday that Berkowitz did not support the road because of concerns about "substantial local opposition to the project" and because of questions he had about the construction and future operating and maintenance costs of the road. Berkowitz asked the Legislature to reallocate the money toward the city's effort to fix the Port of Anchorage.

"The Legislature elected to re-appropriate funds to the University of Alaska for road construction and the mayor expects if that budget is approved that the university will be a responsible developer and follow local design and permitting processes," Hutchinson said.

The idea for the U-Med road was first proposed in the late 1980s. It gained steam after the Legislature allocated $20 million in funding for the project during the 2013 session at the request of then-Mayor Dan Sullivan.

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