Four Alaska Democratic legislators wrote a letter to Gov. Bill Walker, calling on him to consider re-appropriating about $20 million that the state has set aside for the road through Anchorage’s U-Med district. Construction hasn’t yet started on the road, which will cut through UAA land to connect South Bragaw Street and Elmore Road and is expected to alleviate traffic. The legislators said that re-appropriating the money is a prudent thing to do given the “major fiscal crisis” in Alaska. Sens. Bill Wielechowski, and Berta Gardner, along with Reps. Geran Tarr, and Andy Josephson signed the letter. (Read the full press release below, and here for the letter.)
It should be noted that the Legislature appropriates and re-appropriates such funds, not the governor. However, the governor’s support could be influential. Democrats have long opposed the road, and have lost the fight against appropriating funds for the road.
In addition to the $20 million it is expected to cost to build the road, the university will be paid between $3-4 million for the land, according to UAA spokesperson Carla Beam. She said that the university believes that the road is “critical to provide safe and much-needed access to the university.” Indeed, the area can be among the most congested in town.
Neighbors, however, are less than enthusiastic. Community councils in the area have passed resolutions opposing the road. They believe that the road will increase, not alleviate traffic.
Legislators wrote that such an increase will only necessitate further expensive traffic-calming and safety measures.
“The rapid decline in oil prices is forcing all of us to make difficult budget decisions and this unspent money can be better used to improve public safety by maintaining high-priority infrastructure, like roads and bridges in need of repair statewide,” Tarr said.
Below is the press release. A word of caution: It says that credit ratings were downgraded. They weren’t. The state was warned that it’s credit rating might be unless the governor and the Legislature cut the budget.
On Monday, Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage), Rep. Andy Josephson (D-Anchorage) and Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) sent a letter to Governor Bill Walker asking him to consider reappropriating a $19.6-million dollar capital budget appropriation that’s currently dedicated to the U-Med Northern Access Road project in Anchorage. The lawmakers suggest the money be used to maintain critical infrastructure.
“We are faced with the stark reality of a major fiscal crisis in Alaska,” said Rep. Tarr. “The rapid decline in oil prices is forcing all of us to make difficult budget decisions and this unspent money can be better used to improve public safety by maintaining high-priority infrastructure, like roads and bridges in need of repair statewide.”
In recent days, Alaska’s credit rating has been downgraded by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s based on the projected budget deficit the state is expected to run in the fiscal year 2016 budget. Rep. Tarr, Rep. Josephson and Senator Wielechowski are encouraging the Walker Administration to reappropriate the $19.6-million dollars as a public step to respond to the budget crisis and show the credit rating agencies that the state is serious about fiscal restraint.
The U-Med Northern Access Road project has sparked widespread stakeholder concerns and resolutions in opposition to the project have been approved by the University Area, Rogers Park, Airport Heights, Russian Jack and Mountain View Community Councils.
“There is no doubt that the U-Med area has real transportation problems. The issue is how to resolve those problems while maintaining neighborhood integrity,” said Rep. Josephson. “Given our financial predicament at the state level, I believe the $19-million in state appropriations that remains unspent should be returned to the State Treasury pending consideration of other solutions to the U-Med’s growing pains.”
Another lawmaker asking the Governor to consider reappropriating the money from the U-Med Northern Access Road project is Senator Bill Wielechowski.
“We ask the Governor to also explore whether these funds can be put into savings, and would support savings over spending on something else, if that option exists,” said Senator Wielechowski.
In Monday’s letter, Tarr, Josephson and Wielechowski raised safety concerns about the U-Med Northern Access Road project and noted that while funds have been appropriated for a connector road, no funds have been obligated or even discussed for the significant upgrades that would be necessary along the existing stretch of Bragaw Street between Mountain View Drive and Northern Lights Boulevard.