Federal Aid Highways are Federal decisions




Why is EW, which is campaigning for Kitty Piercy’s re-election, echoing one of Jim Torrey’s biggest lies? The June 12 cover story by Alan Pittman noted that there is rhetoric that "Kitty Piercy killed the West Eugene Parkway" but the "reality" is "It would have died anyway" Pittman stated that "Even Torrey acknowledges that the WEP might not have been built anyway due to federal environmental problems with building the highway through protected wetlands."

However, the real issue is that the WEP, like all federal aid transportation projects, was a federal decision not subject to local votes (of the public or the City Council). I've only tracked the WEP since 1999, but the only times I am aware of EW mentioning that the WEP is a federal decision is when I have published letters to the editor and opinion pieces in EW. The Weekly has also refused countless requests to profile the WETLANDS alternative to the WEP — West Eugene Transportation, Land and Neighborhood Design Solutions.

On June 19, 2001, then Mayor Torrey was part of an intergovernmental decision of the city, Lane County, state of Oregon and federal government that admit that the WEP could not be legally built. It is hard to find a rational explanation for the refusal of the Piercy re-election campaign to highlight how Torrey subsequently encouraged the state to piss away millions more on bogus "studies" after Torrey admitted the highway was toast.

Mark Robinowitz, Eugene


EDITOR'S NOTE: It’s our understanding that for the WEP to be built it would have had to be included in the local TransPlan, approved by the Metropolitan Policy Committee, have an environmental impact statement drafted by ODOT and approved by the FHWA, needed an act of Congress or federal waiver to cross protected BLM wetlands, be approved by the Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program, etc. In short, the city or feds can kill such a project, but neither alone can force it to be built. And it appears the WEP would have faced serious funding and environmental obstacles at the federal level if it had passed local scrutiny.


A reply to the Eugene Weekly's Editor's Note:

The FHWA can approve a federal aid highway even if a local government opposes it -- one of the best examples is Interstate 476 in the Philadelphia suburbs. The local government that owned the park (that was in the way) blocked it, but the FHWA used eminent domain, won in court and the highway was built.

The BLM parklands would require a waiver from the BLM (not Congress) to be used for a highway. The primary issue with the BLM property was not "wetlands" - it is the purchase of land with Land and Water Conservation Funds. The "wetland" legal issues were the domain of the Army Corps of Engineers, which grants wetland destruction permits under the Clean Water Act.

Section 4(f) of the Transportation Act of 1966 was the strongest obstacle to the project, since it forbids federal aid transportation projects (road, bus or rail) through parkland unless there is not a prudent and feasible alternative. This is why I documented the outline of a prudent and feasible alternative and publicly opposed the Mary O'Brien / Rob Zako / Rob Handy proposal for a worse so-called alternative in 2002 - since their strawman option would be worse than ODOT's preference, and therefore would have nullified our 4(f) claims in Federal court.

The main reason the WEP decision was "No Build" is FHWA realized they would lose in Federal court. In 1996, they withdraw their 1990 Record of Decision a month after Barbara Kelley filed a notice of intent to sue (since they knew they'd lose). My WETLANDS vs. FHWA lawsuit had more legal hooks than her effort, and privately the agencies knew I was right. They will never publicly admit this, but it is the truth.