Controversial road project through U-Med area gears up

The state and city are gearing up to choose a final route for a new road into the university and medical district from Northern Lights Boulevard.

The Legislature approved $20 million this year to actually build the road. That money is expected to be available around July, assuming Gov. Sean Parnell doesn't veto the spending.

But there's already about $1 million available from last year's legislative appropriations to do studies needed to choose the best route, said Jim Amundsen of the state Department of Transportation, who was recently appointed design project manager.

An earlier study narrowed the proposed routes to four. By this time next year, Amundsen hopes there'll be just one.

The project has long been controversial. Some critics are concerned about slicing through the campuses and green spaces at the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Pacific University, and attracting shortcut traffic into the area.

Traffic planners say a new road is needed to allow growth in the university and medical district, and because traffic is building around the edge of the district, along Tudor Road, Lake Otis Parkway, Northern Lights and Boniface Parkway.

The skeleton of UAA's new on-campus sports arena, rising across the street from the Providence Alaska Medical Center, is a graphic reminder that the district continues to expand. The arena, set to open in August 2014, will seat about 5,600.

Besides the two universities and Providence, the U-Med district is also home to the Alaska Native Medical Center and office buildings associated with the two hospitals. It's a big employment center for Anchorage.

The road project is going to be developed jointly by the city, the state and major institutions within the U-Med area, Amundsen said.

"We're all going to be part and parcel of it. ... It's going to be as a group, this is what needs to be done," he said.

Providence supports better access to the district, but doesn't have a route preference, said spokeswoman Kirsten Schultz.

Another big player, UAA, has come around in the last couple of years to the belief that a road through the U-Med district is needed, said Bill Spindle, vice chancellor for administration.

In 2011, the university was on the fence.

"Traffic congestion is getting to be too much," Spindle said. "Especially UAA Drive. There's so much pressure on UAA Drive because there's no other way to go."

"We're looking for something that works with the environment," he said. The university likes the way Elmore was built south of Tudor, with passages for animals, he said.

The state DOT is the lead agency.

Representatives of UAA, Providence, Southcentral Foundation, APU, the Native Medical Center, the state and city earlier this year signed agreements saying they will work together.

Amundsen doesn't expect those organizations to all agree, but, he said, "I think we'll come up with the best consensus we can."

A public meeting on the project will likely be scheduled in late May or early June, he said.

The routes still being considered are:

• A direct connection from Elmore Street to South Bragaw Street at Northern Lights.

• Two versions of a road that would connect only the north section of the UAA campus to Northern Lights.

• A connection from Elmore to Northern Lights near the Northern Lights intersection with Wesleyan Drive.

At a public meeting on the project in 2011, 150 to 200 people turned out to Wendler Middle School, and many of them were opposed to any new road through the area.