Alaska News

Highway-to-highway project hits speed bump

Remember the highway-to-highway project? Big controversy, seven different routes considered to smoothly connect the Glenn and Seward highways, lots of potential conflict with neighborhoods from one end of the Anchorage Bowl to the other?

Just when the state Department of Transportation was scheduled early this year to narrow the range of alternatives and hold more public meetings, the project disappeared from public view.

The state pulled back advertisements -- though one appeared in the newspaper by mistake -- that would have announced three routes selected for further study, and cancelled a series of public meetings to talk about them.

What happened?

The governor's office asked DOT to put the public involvement part on hold, said Robert Campbell, design and construction director for the Anchorage region.

"The governor's office asked us to not go forward with substantial public involvement until they were comfortable with the alternatives," Campbell said.

He said people in the community --neighbors and business people -- had been calling the governor's office with concerns about the various proposed routes.


The governor's press secretary, Sharon Leighow, said in e-mails Thursday that people called with concerns about the costs and the effects of the project on their property and neighborhoods. The governor's staff is reviewing these issues, and considering how to improve the public-comment process, she said.


The highway-to-highway project is intended to get rid of a bottleneck that occurs when drivers get off either freeway. At the point where the Glenn and Seward meet, they are regular city streets with stoplights, and stop-and-go traffic during rush hour. Five percent of all crashes in the state take place in this corridor.

DOT project manager Jim Childers has estimated that building a freeway connection would cost $700 million.

Right now, the state has $20 million for environmental and route studies. Part of the studies will involve figuring out how to pay for the rest of the project.

In its initial go-around, the planners last year laid out seven possible routes for consideration. They were also looking at such things as a super-fast bus system.

The routes included some that state Rep. Les Gara, who represents downtown, Fairview and part of Midtown, called crazy -- alternatives that would never get past the initial phase, but were added to show the state had considered every feasible route. One route would have created a new freeway along the east edge of Muldoon. Another would have sliced through Russian Jack Springs Park.


Community councils across the city opposed routes they believed would damage their neighborhoods.

The Fairview Community Council was an exception. It has long supported a new freeway connection along the Gambell-Ingra couplet -- as long as the freeway supports the kind of development the neighborhood wants.

One proposal was to build a partially covered, sunken freeway through Fairview, with other developments like parks and businesses on top of it.

State Sen. Johnny Ellis, who represents many of the affected neighborhoods, said he's never seen so many people attending community council meetings as came to those last fall when the highway-to-highway project was on the agenda at Campbell Park, Rogers Park and Airport Heights and other community councils.

The fact that the project appears to be in limbo is a problem, he said. "There are constituents trying to sell their homes. People remodelling ... Everybody's in suspended animation until the DOT gets definite about who is in the path of highway to highway."


Ellis said he met with the DOT commissioner two weeks ago, but couldn't get a timeline on when the project would move forward.

The Gambell-Ingra route favored by Fairview community leaders was one of three routes identified for further study in the mistakenly published newspaper ad Jan. 29.

The other two were Orca Street, a route that at least in its initial version would have run through Rogers Park neighborhood and the Chester Creek greenbelt, and 15th Avenue, which would cross Merrill Field and nearby green space.


The governor's office offered no hint Thursday as to when the overall project might move ahead.