By Ammon Swenson, Reporter
Last week, a public meeting was held at UAA to discuss the U-Med Northern Road Access Project.
Professor Shannon Donovan led the students that hosted the event. She called it a service-learning project for students in her Environmental Planning and Problem Solving class. Around 100 community members and students were there.
“Our overall goal was definitely to help people understand the Northern Access Road Project, to get the information, and also how to look up additional information that they would need, and then to help them understand the comment process and what they should be thinking about as they prepare a public comment in order to be effective,” said Donovan.
Various incarnations of the road project have been discussed for years. As the area around the UAA, APU, and Providence hospital campuses has grown, traffic congestion has become more of a problem. The current project would link Elmore and Bragaw roads, cutting through wetlands and trails. It’s funded, but permitting and a finalized plan could take a while.
Supporters say they need to ease packed roads, while opponents don’t want to lose the green space and many believe that a new road will just cause more problems with traffic.
“The entire semester was spent looking at the Northern Access Road Project and kind of the potential implications that could come up from it, be them good or bad,” said Taylor, a senior in Donovan’s class.
The students gave presentations on the project and moderated a panel with representatives from UAA facilities and administrative services as well as representatives of UAA and APU environmental clubs. The panel answered prepared questions and ones from the audience.
Vice Chancellor for administrative services, Bill Spindle and Associate Vice Chancellor for facilities Chris Turletes defended the road, mostly referring to the need to deal with the traffic problems.
“We want the road to be done responsibly — and if it is, we are supportive of it, because we need better access into UAA. The whole U-Med District is growing by leaps and bounds, you can just look at Providence how it’s grown, how the native hospital has grown — we have grown,” said Spindle.
“I think the road takes a bite out of some of the undeveloped land, but I think its benefit is greater than the land that it takes,” said Turletes.
Paula Williams is head of the Sustainability office at UAA and was representing the Sustainability club, which wants to look at alternate ways of easing traffic congestion.
“Their concern is primarily that wetlands — which provide a very important ecological service — are being impacted by this road and I think that also their feeling was that they would like to emphasize more the protecting the green spaces or the natural environment in the master plan, than having access to the university,” said Williams.
Community response to the road was mostly negative. Many of the questions for the UAA representatives would probably have been better suited to the Department of Public Transportation or DOWL HKM, who are handling the design and declined to attend the meeting.
“My main point of concern that I was really trying to ask the panelists about was whether or not it’s going to actually alleviate traffic or somehow make it worse, because it would be kind of an access point from North to South, so it opens up a whole separate section of people coming into the U-Med campus,” said Taylor after the meeting.
Her question was never really answered and despite concerns over losing wetlands or needing to fix the traffic problem, it’s a basic premise of this issue. Will it even work?
More information can be found at:
DOWL HKM project site
Class project facebook page
This article was corrected to fix Mr. Turletes name.