Berkowitz kills controversial road project

Ethan Berkowitz letter to DOT to kill Bragaw extension
This from Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz to Transportation Commissioner Marc Luiken to kill the Northern Access Project came out Friday.

A contentious road project in Anchorage is being dealt a fatal blow.

In a letter sent out just ahead of the weekend to the head of the state Department of Transportation, Mayor Ethan Berkowitz withdrew the city’s support for the Northern Access Project, also known as the Bragaw or Elmore Extension.

“We made the decision because in this time of fiscal austerity at the state level, there needs to be a distinction between wants and needs,” Berkowitz said.

AFN 2015 Ethan Berkowitz
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz at the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in October. (Photo by Mikko Wilson/KTOO)

Citing funding contingencies and complex designs that could put the municipality on the hook paying the cost for construction overages, Berkowitz is asking the legislature to re-appropriate the $15-17 million balance of funds left to pay for the project. He wants the remainder to go to the Port of Anchorage Modernization Project.

“The port is the most pressing need that we have here in Anchorage, and in fact it’s one of the most pressing needs in the state,” Berkowitz said. “80 to 90 percent of the goods in all Alaska cross through that port, and we’re one seismic event away from a disaster.”

The Northern Access Project faced major opposition from community and environmental groups, as well as criticism over its costs, which were conservatively estimated at about $20 million for a two-lane road 7/10th of a mile long.

Though the letter is a serious blow to the project, Berkowitz hesitated characterizing it as “dead.”

“I’ve spent enough time around Juneau to know that every project becomes its own Lazarus after a while,” Berkowitz said. “It just means that for the time being we’re not going to be proceeding with it.”

Supporters of the project, including area hospitals and the University of Alaska Anchorage, say the road extension is necessary to accommodate increasing traffic into the U-Med District.

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