Lawmakers call on Walker to strip funding for UAA road

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.



9 thoughts on “Lawmakers call on Walker to strip funding for UAA road

  1. birchstick

    Please, let’s return to one party rule. That’s served us so well the last ten years. I mean, all this budget and fiscal crisis stuff only started at the beginning of this month right, when W/M took over?

  2. Tara Jollie

    Re-appropriation does not equal savings. All decision makers need to get on board with cutting spending; special interests will be out in force. This is a good example of the bloody fight to come this legislative session over money.

  3. JPR

    Whatever the motivation is, I agree that this project should be canceled or delayed. Rather than reappropriating, I would suggest repeal. We need to quit spending period.

  4. Lynn Willis

    Memo to these four legislators: Good idea to maintain infrastructure we already have built or actually use the money to replenish our cash reserves; however, simply re-apportioning funds for maintenance or other expense is not preventing them from being spent and therefore does not reduce state spending.
    Notice that there is a strong sentiment against actually saving the $20 million, as opposed to just not spending it on this particular road. Is this what we can expect this session as we attempt to live within our means – partisan bickering over individual projects without actually cutting spending significantly? If all this does is spend the money on something else, is it now the Republican’s turn to re-apportion $20 million in an equally meaningless gesture meant to confuse motion with progress?
    While I encourage this step in the right direction to save the money, if they actually wanted to cut this amount of spending between the two parties they need to find another 49 projects worth $20 million then they will have saved a billion dollars . Next go find another 100 projects worth $20 million each and you have saved the three billion we need to cut.
    We need comprehensive solutions to provide the maximum benefit to Alaskans over time, not politically expedient smoke and mirrors.

  5. AH HA

    Ok, that’s a pretty significant factual error and in my book it’s beyond what I would normally discount as spin.

    What else is untrue?

    ….. It’s one of the two things you just cannot get a politition to do willingly: tell the simple truth.

    As usual the other thing is in play here as well: cut spending without being forced to.

  6. CPG49

    Pay the University for the land to build the road? Are you kidding me? Their arrogance is non-ending.
    I don’t know enough about the road to know if it should or shouldn’t be built; however, I think that, particularly in these financially strapped times, it would be sinful for the University system to expect payment for their land. Don’t these folks realize they are a subdivision of the state. Without state money they wouldn’t exist.
    In my estimation, the University represents what’s wrong with Alaska’s spending largess. The leadership of the UA and UAA system are two retired generals looking for yet another retirement check without any commitment to education. Shame on the Board of Regents. I hope that Governor Walker will appoint Regents that will get rid of the retired generals. We need energetic, committed leadership. Our University system desrves more than having it be a retirement job for some military clique. Wake up regents.

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