Set to start this summer, $130M Seward Highway project in South Anchorage faces renewed scrutiny

The Anchorage Assembly and some community members want the state to reconsider a $130 million Seward Highway expansion project that has long been in the works.

After years of planning, construction on the O’Malley Road to Dimond Boulevard project is expected to start late this summer, with completion in 2025, state transportation planners say.

Plans for the 1.5-mile stretch of highway in South Anchorage include raising it to create a roundabout interchange linking Scooter Avenue with Academy Drive; adding the equivalent of two lanes with a new northbound lane plus frontage and ramp improvements; and constructing the state’s second “diverging diamond” interchange with criss-crossing lanes at the O’Malley underpass.

State road planners say the project will improve safety for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists, and create 2 miles each of bike lanes and sidewalks. The double roundabout at Scooter will help connect both sides of the highway in that area, and address concerns about kids dashing across lanes to the Dimond Center mall, they say. A federal grant will cover 93% of the project, with the state contributing the rest.

Opponents say the changes aren’t needed. They point out that traffic in the area has dropped or flattened as other roads have been built, shopping and commuting habits have changed, and the city’s population has declined.

They say the money should be spent to upgrade older, state-maintained roads with more pressing needs, such as Fireweed Lane, rather than building new ones that increase the state’s maintenance challenges.

Last week, the Assembly unanimously passed a resolution that expressed concerns about the O’Malley to Dimond project, and called on state and federal highway planners to review its purpose and need.


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Nancy Pease, a board member of the Rabbit Creek Community Council south of the project, recently joined two others in calling the roundabout interchange a boondoggle in an opinion article in the Daily News. They said more lanes will promote more speeding and pollution, and put drivers and other users in danger.

“This is not just a waste, it’s a burden,” Pease said in an interview. “The amount of money is staggering and the impacts will last well into the next generation. We’re literally casting the future in concrete.”

Former South Anchorage Assembly member John Weddleton, who lives east of the proposed roundabout in the Independence Park area, opposes the project.

The roundabout would give him quicker access to the Dimond Center mall where he owns the Bosco’s comic and games store, he said.

But it would “hammer” the residential areas east of the highway with more cars, he said. Traffic at Academy and Vanguard roads would increase from about 1,000 cars daily to more than 10,000, he said. Academy now ends in a “T,” with a stop sign at Vanguard.

“It’d be beneficial for me, but I don’t want to sacrifice the neighborhood,” he said.

Roundabout in the crosshairs

Christina Huber, the project’s manager with Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, characterized the group trying to stop the O’Malley to Dimond project as small and vocal.

The project is on the short-term list in the 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for Anchorage. The plan was approved in 2020 by the five-member policy committee of Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions, which consists of the mayor and two Assembly members, along with two state officials.

“We’re required to follow the signed and approved city-documented vision for the city, which says they want a crossing here,” Huber said. “And we can’t say, ‘Oh my God, at the last minute 50 people came up and said they don’t want it, so we’re not doing it.’ ”

Huber said about $15 million has already been spent on design and acquiring right-of-way. Highway traffic in the area has essentially been flat at about 35,000 cars daily for more than a decade, but is expected to grow by about 15,000 cars by 2040, she said.

Huber said she doesn’t see why drivers would cut through neighborhoods east of the project. They can access the thoroughfare of Abbott Road to the north, from Vanguard Drive.

To address the extra traffic expected there, the state has started designing a follow-on project estimated to cost an additional $20 million, she said.

That will improve Academy Drive at Vanguard, so traffic can easily flow onto Abbott Road. The goal is to have that project built in 2026, using federal funding to pay for 93% of the cost with the state covering the rest, she said.

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‘Misalignment’ a problem

That “misalignment” in timing of the roundabout interchange at Scooter, and the needed improvements for Academy at Vanguard, is one problem with the project, said Assembly member Meg Zaletel, a member of the metropolitan transportation policy committee.

In addition to the recent resolution calling on state and federal planners to review the project, the Assembly in August also called for a non-vehicular freeway crossing to replace the Scooter roundabout, which is often referred to as the 92nd Avenue interchange after the nearby road.


“The Assembly wants to make sure this project is right-sized for its stated need,” said Zaletel.

It wants to “press pause” for a reevaluation, she said.

Assembly member Daniel Volland, also a member of the metropolitan transportation policy committee, said if safety is a priority for the project, there should be a highway crossing for pedestrians and cyclists. An underpass for vehicles isn’t needed, especially with decreasing traffic counts and population declines, he said.

“We continuously prioritize the movement of vehicles in Anchorage, and that’s a long-standing pattern, and sometimes it’s to the detriment of safety for pedestrians and cyclists and the quality of life in Anchorage,” he said.

Mayor Dave Bronson “supports the project in conjunction with the (policy committee) which has voted twice on the project moving forward,” Bronson’s office said in an emailed statement. “This will help reduce congestion on Dimond and it’s another step in the improvement of the Seward Highway. This was the product of a robust public process, and the mayor supports ADOT’s authority to manage projects.”

Huber said the state analyzed the idea for a non-vehicular crossing, but found that it was expensive and unjustified.

She said the state has already planned to reevaluate the O’Malley to Dimond project, before bidding the project and hiring a contractor in the coming months.

The renewed opposition is a key development she’ll highlight in the review, she said. But to her knowledge, nothing has changed to require a major alteration of the plan, she said.


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Assembly member Volland said he’s concerned the state’s already-planned reevaluation will simply involve “checking another ‘compliance’ box based on outdated data.”

Getting ‘the best road possible’

Patti Higgins, a board member of the Abbott Loop council just east of the project and a former chair of the Alaska Democratic Party, said she supports the plan.

She said the roundabout will cut her commute times and make her neighborhood feel less isolated from the west side of the highway. She said that with much of the project preparation completed, it appears the state will move forward with it.

Instead of fighting it, opponents should work with state planners, she said.

“We should be advocating for the best road possible,” she said.

Mark Butler, vice president of the North Star Community Council that includes Fireweed Lane, said he opposes the O’Malley to Dimond project until money is spent to improve roads in urban areas.

That includes state-maintained Fireweed Lane, where he said plow trucks bury sidewalks with snow because of a bad road design, forcing wheelchair users and walkers, including schoolchildren, into the street.

“We need to deal with this stuff first before we deal with any more freeway parts and pieces,” he said.

Stopping the O’Malley to Dimond project would not guarantee any of the unused money will stay in Anchorage, Huber said. It would be reallocated to other projects on the statewide transportation improvement list, possibly outside Anchorage.

“It’s not gonna be, ‘Oh look, $105 million. What do we want to spend it on?’ ” she said, referring to the project’s construction-only estimate. “It will be decided at a statewide level.”

Justin Shelby, spokesman with the state transportation agency, said the state is accepting public comments on the project at or by email at

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Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or