Possible ‘makeover’ for Spenard Road

Anchorage residents can expect to
see an important project on this April’s
ballot affecting one of the city’s most
notorious roadways. If passed, the
project would mean the start of a
substantial makeover for Spenard Road
and the sidewalks that line it – a project
that not everyone along the populated
thoroughfare is in agreement on.
“It’s been on the city’s priority list
to fi x for some time,” special assistant
to the mayor’s offi ce, Michael Johnson
said.
The Spenard Project includes
decreasing the speed limit and turning
the four-lane road into a three-lane
road with one north bound lane, one
south bound lane and a center turning
lane. According to Johnson, Spenard
Road has a high accident rate of 120
accidents per year.
Due to the design of the road – four
undivided lanes with no median –
sideswipe accidents are common. Also
the lack of consolidation of driveways
and poor design of the sidewalks
makes it dangerous for pedestrians,
Johnson said.
“It’s about the highest used corridor
for bus riders and there is a fair number
of bike riders too,” Johnson said. “It’s
just an older road with design issues.”
Although the city thinks a remodel
is the best plan, not everyone is in
agreement. “Save Spenard” signs are
posted in shop windows by business
owners that are concerned the
construction will take a fi nancial toll
on their business.
Sara Spudowski, co-owner of
SugarSpoon, is one of them. The
section of Spenard her restaurant is
situated on, between Fireweed Lane
and Northern Lights Boulevard, was
part of the proposed project until the
city recently cut it from the budget.
Although construction for her section
of the road won’t be on April’s ballot, there
is a possibility that it will be proposed again
in the future.
“I have a feeling it will resurface but at
least we bought ourselves another year,”
Spudowski said.
If those plans do resurface, Spudowski is
not only concerned with closing off the only
access to her restaurant, but also worries
that tearing up Spenard, even for a short
time, would mean a loss of business for
those who are not as established. She said
the municipality could develop an alternate
plan that uses less money – especially when
the city is already suffering from a potential
defi cit.
“There are other ways to go about it that
are cheaper,” Spudowski said. “It’s much
cheaper to lower the speed limit and increase
law enforcement and then the money is also
going back to the city.”
Along with others opposed to the plan,
Spudowski thinks that by turning a fourlane
road into a three-lane road, there will
be more traffi c congestion on Spenard,
resulting in Anchorage residents avoiding
it altogether.
Not everybody who does business on
Spenard is against the project. REI manager
Mike Herzog believes the complete project
would be very benefi cial to businesses along
Spenard.
“A recent DOT study actually showed
that three-lane highways facilitate more
traffi c through,” Hertzog said. “We think
that it will be creating a real good synergy
for all the local businesses, not just our
store.”
Herzog said he thought that by remodeling
Spenard, local businesses would not be the
only ones who will benefi t. Spenard has
a high density of housing consisting of
young students who use the sidewalks and
pathways. His safety concerns also extend
to his customers and store employees, many
of which commute to the store by bike or
on foot.
“It creates a retail environment where
people can come and walk comfortably,”
Herzog said. “Right now, Spenard lacks
[that] from the aesthetic standpoint.”
Besides improving the aesthetics and
safety of the road, Herzog said he also
thought that a slower speed limit would
boost business.
“Study after study shows that if you can
slow people’s cars down, retail businesses
will do better,” Herzog said.
According to Spudowski, when
construction of the Northern Lights-
Fireweed section was under consideration,
members of the Assembly offered to put up
detour signs in order for customers to fi nd
an alternate route to those businesses. They
also suggested that she change her business
model to include catering services.
“Those kinds of suggestions just stir the
pot,” Spudowski said.
Although she doesn’t support
construction on the Northern Lights-
Fireweed section, she’s not completely
opposed to the project.
“Any upgrade to the city is great,”
Spudowski said. “The area that’s going
to bonds in April isn’t going to affect
[SugarSpoon] that much.”
Funding for construction of Spenard
between Hillcrest and Chester Creek will
be presented in the form of bonds in the
April election. If approved, construction on
the section between Hillcrest and Chester
Creek could start as early as this summer.