Key Anchorage stakeholders skeptical of megaproject solutions to connect Seward and Glenn highways

a cross section illustration of a highway over a park
This illustration shows a cross section of a highway viaduct over a park. The Alaska Department of Transportation published this as part of its Seward to Glenn highway connection draft alternatives in February 2024.

Right now, a pair of four-lane, one-way streets slice through Anchorage’s Fairview neighborhood to connect two of Southcentral Alaska’s major highways, the Seward and Glenn. Or, as Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel recently put it, a “giant monstrosity that cuts through the heart of Anchorage.” 

Tens of thousands of vehicles zoom by every day on Gambell and Ingra streets, which used to be neighborhood roads. Transportation officials repurposed them as high-volume highway connectors after the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, physically dividing Fairview, causing disinvestment, and creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Now, the state Department of Transportation and its consultants are working through a study that began in 2021 to come up with potential fixes. They published a preliminary list of project options in February, and are refining those options based on public input. While the concepts for a new high-speed highway are getting the most attention, there are hints of consensus forming around far less expensive options that could change how everyone gets in, out and around the city.

A man with a red hat and a dog walk on the sidewalk of a busy highway.
A pedestrian and their dog walk along Ingra Street on March 3, 2023. (Alaska Public Media/Mizelle Mayo)

All of the options have different impacts on traffic patterns, quality of life, homes, businesses, parks and even Merrill Field. 

The flashiest idea calls for building a new highway bypass through the Airport Heights neighborhood with an elevated viaduct over park land.

A map showing how the Seward and Glenn highways could be connected with a highway bypass in Airport Heights
This map shows Alternative D of the Alaska Department of Transportation’s Seward to Glenn highway connection study, which calls for building a highway bypass through Anchorage’s Airport Heights neighborhood, with a viaduct over park land. DOT published its draft alternatives in February 2024.

Or, rebuilding the connection in place in Fairview as a more traditional high-speed highway – but below street-level with new, crosstown connections for local traffic on top.

A map showing how the Seward and Glenn highways could be connected with a depressed highway in Fairview
This map shows Alternative A of the Alaska Department of Transportation’s Seward to Glenn highway connection study, which calls for building a depressed highway through Fairview, with crosstown connections for local traffic on top. DOT published its draft alternatives in February 2024.
a cross section illustration of a depressed, 4-lane highway
This illustration shows a cross section of a depressed highway. The Alaska Department of Transportation published this as part of its Seward to Glenn highway connection draft alternatives in February 2024.

Aaron Jongenelen is the head of AMATS, the area’s metropolitan transportation planning organization. He said there seems to be too much focus on building expensive new infrastructure, and not enough on improving local connections. 

“As a transportation planner, it’s our responsibility in AMATS to say whether or not alternatives that are brought forward can be paid for,” Jongenelen told the Anchorage Assembly last month, at a meeting where state transportation officials and their consultants walked through the concepts. “And, no, I’ll say it right now, we can’t afford this stuff.” 

Federal money could help with the upfront costs. But Jongenelen said that’s just part of the issue. 

“Maintenance is a huge concern because when you accept federal dollars, you have to be able to show that you’re gonna be able to maintain those systems,” he said. “We can’t maintain our systems now, both in pavement and winter maintenance. It’s a struggle for all of the agencies. And when you look at these alternatives here, it looks like a massive amount of pavement is being added. Because it’s not just the highway, it’s all the other stuff you have to do in addition to it.” 

Formal cost estimates for the different alternatives haven’t been developed yet as part of the state’s study. But old estimates from past highway connection studies put the more ambitious solutions in the hundreds of millions of dollars. 

Zaletel, who is an alternate on the AMATS policy committee, said price tags that high make for unrealistic projects. 

“And so I really don’t know why we’re going through this exercise,” she said. “You’re going to have a piece of funding missing where some neighborhood’s gonna have to – and Fairview has – live with the consequences of the unfunded idea for decades and decades.”

AMATS’ long-term plan for the problematic highway connection is much simpler: redesign the existing roads as what are known as “complete streets.” That is, with non-motorized users in mind, instead of as an afterthought. That would likely mean fewer vehicle lanes, lower speed limits, safer sidewalks, better crosswalks and bike-friendly improvements. The AMATS estimate for that is about $75 million. 

A sense of place photo in the winter where a semi truck is on the right side of the photo where the road is and utility poles obstructing pedestrian sidewalks on a snow filled street.
Utility poles along Gambell Street, pictured here on March 3, 2023, obstruct the sidewalks for pedestrians. (Alaska Public Media/Mizelle Mayo)

That is on the table in the ongoing state study, both as a standalone solution and to complement the flashier ones. Several Assembly members indicated they are interested. 

Lindsey Hajduk is with the nonprofit NeighborWorks Alaska, which is partnered with the Fairview Community Council looking for solutions to repair damage to the community caused by the existing highway connection. 

She said she’s still hopeful there will be consensus.  

“But we do have major concerns about some of these options,” Hajduk said. “And are really trying to find that place of, what can we say yes to? What can we promote and push? And when hear the department say, ‘Is a highway needed, and if so, where?’” 

That’s the overarching question the state’s study intends to answer. 

“It’s that, ‘Is a highway needed?’ piece that we’re still really pushing on,” she said. 

Assembly Chair Chris Constant said the fact that DOT’s goals on this project are about improving the immediate neighborhood, rather than traffic congestion or vehicle travel times is noteworthy. 

“It’s a local project, and we’re working to take care of a local problem, that is a federal highway running through a residential neighborhood. I think that is a sea change of difference,” he said. “Because it’s no longer the conversation about traffic moving without stopping from the edge of Anchorage to the edge of Anchorage. 

The project team plans to hold another workshop, open house, and public comment period this summer, all leading up to the team’s formal recommendation in October. 

More information about the state study is available at

Jeremy Hsieh covers Anchorage with an emphasis on housing, homelessness, infrastructure and development. Reach him at or 907-550-8428. Read more about Jeremy here.

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