Road Expansion Budget Requests

Fiscal Years 2010 through 2015
Eugene, Springfield, Coburg & Lane County

Asking ODOT for $186 million for projects costing over $367 million as we pass Peak Traffic

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The Lane Council of Governments is getting ready to make formal requests to the Oregon Department of Transportation for a large amount of federal transportation dollars to widen major roads throughout the metropolitan area. This is the first major stage for implementation of the "Regional Transportation Plan" approved in November, 2007 - the RTP is a long term budget for allocating these funds. The RTP is divided into two segments - the "constrained" list of projects that supposedly can be funded over a twenty year period, and the "illustrative" (formerly called "future") list for projects that they know cannot be funded over the next two decades.

The RTP was narrowly approved by local governments. While most of the jurisdictions that comprise LCOG had no real dissent to this laundry list of road projects, the City of Eugene delegation was split on the issue. City Council Alan Zalenka is one of the two Eugene representatives on the LCOG Metropolitan Policy Committee (which approves the RTP) and he voted no. Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy voted yes for the RTP. If she had joined Zalenka, then Eugene's vote would have been no, and therefore the RTP would not have passed. Under federal law, the Metropolitan Planning Organization (LCOG) needs to have an approved transportation plan in order to start the byzantine process of asking for federal highway dollars for major projects. In other words, Mayor Piercy's swing vote for the RTP gave the City of Springfield the legal authority to start asking Rep. DeFazio for federal earmarks to fund expansion of Route 126 (they want to convert 126 at Main Street into a grade separated interchange to help subsidize suburban sprawl in the Thurston area).

When this writer asked the Mayor the day after she voted for the RTP how she could reconcile supporting all these road construction projects with her professed interest in "sustainability," she replied that these road projects will never be built (and presumably, therefore, her vote for them was irrelevant). While it is true that Peak Oil means that the entire list of RTP projects will probably not be built, it is also true that some of these expansions will be built in the short run (perhaps during Piercy's second term, should Lane County's ballot scanning machines declare her the winner in November).

As the economic crash intensifies, there will be tremendous pressure to "do something" to put people back to work. In the 1930s, the "New Deal" includes construction of numerous scenic roads that employed many thousands of unemployed men - and these roads also boosted recreational driving that helped boost this huge part of the economy. (The 1930s were also the peak of oil discovery in the United States, but that's a different story.)

In 2009, the next Federal transportation bill will probably be passed by the next Congress. Both major party candidates for President are strong supporters of highway expansion (although the Democrat also favors increased funding for Amtrak in addition to throwing hundreds of billions of dollars at outer beltways, bypasses and other road projects).

Lane County is holding a hearing on September 3 to approve their list of priority projects that require huge federal funding allocations. Here's a summary from the notice about this meeting - note that Lane County chooses meeting times that are extremely difficult for most citizens to be able to attend - even a noon time public comment period would better accommodate people who work downtown who could come on their lunch hour.

It is interesting that the Lane County employee who sent out a notice about the Sept. 3 hearing knows about "Peak Traffic." This writer sent her some information about Peak Traffic in response to the hearing notice, and this was the reply:

I just noticed your pictures, and wanted you to know I appreciate your
interest and involvement. In August, the National Association of
Counties reported the following:

Vehicle Miles Traveled Down for Eighth Consecutive Month as Oil
Deliveries & Car Sales Drop
The DOT released data showing Americans drove 4.7 percent less in June
2008 than in June 2007. It's the steepest plunge in driving in
percentage terms since a 5.3 percent year-over-year drop in January
2006, when winter storms paralyzed the East Coast, and the eighth month
in a row that the nation's motorists have responded to high oil prices
by reducing the distances they travel. The 12.2 billion drop in vehicle
miles traveled for June is the largest numeric monthly decline in miles
driven since records began in 1942. Vehicle travel has gone down 53.2
billion miles during the period from November 2007 to June 2008 compared
to the same period a year earlier, according to the report issued
Wednesday by the DOT's Federal Highway Administration. That tops the
decline of 49.3 billion miles recorded during the Arab oil embargo of
the 1970s. The decline is most evident in rural travel, which has fallen
by 4 percent since November, while urban travel is down 1.2 percent.

Thanks again. Please feel welcome to submit testimony to the Board,
after reviewing the materials. If you submit comments prior to the
August 27 meeting at the Roads Advisory Committee, I will also inform
the RAC of your comments.

Celia Barry
LCPW Transportation Planning


The LCOG staff have presented accurate information about Peak Oil to the government officials at the Metropolitan Policy Commitee meetings. But despite these warnings, most politicians and bureaucrats pretend that "no one could have foreseen" the recent increases in oil prices, even though the warnings were specific although not 100% precise (the exact timing is not predictable even if the trends were obvious). Our bus transportation system is having problems paying its bills - ironically at a time of record public use. If our public officials had acted on the knowledge that Peak Oil was imminent, perhaps they would have pushed to be able to redirect highway expansion funds to run the bus system, so that Peak Oil would not crash our public transit system just as it is needed most. Why should anyone trust the officials who deliberately ignored accurate warnings about the end of cheap oil to determine budgets and policies as we enter the downslope of Hubbert's Peak?

"You might be right about that"
-- Bobby Green's comment to Mark Robinowitz when told that the end of cheap oil was predicted but ignored by those passing budgets, the reason that LTD cannot afford to run our buses

The Board of County Commissioners will hold a Public Hearing to take comment on the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) federal Earmarks priorities for state highway modernization projects in Lane County. Click here to view the Board packet materials describing the agenda item.

Hearing Date: Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Time: 1:30 PM
Location: Board of Commissioners Conference Room
Public Services Building, Top Floor
125 E 8th Ave., Eugene


Here is the list of the road projects the County wants ODOT and Federal Highway Administration to fund, along with some comments about each:


Proposed Lane County (Region 2, Area 5) OTC Earmarks List Priorities
Requested funding is for Construction (C-STIP), and not Development (DSTIP),
unless otherwise noted

[STIP stands for State Transportation Improvement Plan]


1. I-5 @ Beltline Interchange $ 35.0 million

$94 million is already allocated toward this monster interchange project. It was approved in 2003 with little public notice and even less dissent. While all parties involved in this project swear it is not a subsidy for the Peace Health relocation to the McKenzie River, it seems obvious that the hospital is a major part of the purpose.

The $35 million requested would be used to finish the final stages of this mega project. has information about a much simpler, much cheaper solution for this interchange that would have solved the "weaving" problems in the ramps. Adding extra "collector distributor" lanes (local / express) would have fixed the geometric deficiencies for a fraction of the cost. However, this would not have massively expanded traffic capacity - capacity that will not be needed after the economic impacts of Peak Oil further diminish traffic demand. Unfortunately, this simpler, cheaper alternative was ignored by ODOT in their Environmental Assessment, and the pending West Eugene Parkway seemed to be a better target to focus limited energy for a federal lawsuit.


2. Gateway/Beltline: International Way to Postal Way $ 15.0 million

This is to reconstruct intersections that will be overloaded by extra traffic induced by the new I-5 / Beltline interchange. $10 million is already allocated, so this project would total $25 million.


3. I-5 @ Coburg Interchange $19.5 million $ 19.5 million

The City of Coburg is now considered part of the Eugene Springfield metropolitan area for the purposes of having a Metropolitan Planning Organization (a federal requirement for allocating highway money to cities). This interchange project seems to be Coburg's payoff for joining the club, although it is an expensive housewarming present for a town that has only about 1,000 inhabitants.

This project would rebuild the Coburg interchange, ostensibly to handle traffic increases for the industrial area between the historic downtown and the freeway. $15,668,000 has already been appropriated, so the total cost would be $35,168,000.

The supporting document for this proposal states:

Most of the planned employment is also slated for the same general area, and is anticipated to generate even greater levels of traffic during the peak periods of travel.
The interchange is insufficient to meet the demands of the large employment centers that exist within this area. Several large manufacturing companies rely on this interchange to move people, goods, and services throughout the region. This area serves as a major employment hub for the entire region and substandard ramps and other geometric deficiencies create problems at this interchange.
The existing interchange ramps and bridge are not anticipated to be able to accommodate planned future (year 2025) traffic growth.

However, the biggest employer in Coburg is Monaco Coach, which is already starting to cut jobs as rising gas prices dent sales of its luxury recreational vehicles. If Monaco does not have a fall back plan to convert to bus manufacturing, they are going to implode as a corporation when gasoline prices go up further. Perhaps Lane County's economic leaders could have a contest to guess how high the price of oil needs to climb before Monaco closes down, which would reduce rush hour travel to and from their factory.

Another, hidden reason for this project is the pending widening of I-5 to six lanes through Lane County, which is already being piece-mealed as funding permits. The overpass over the highway does not have any room for adding extra lanes on the Interstate, so this project's reconstruction of the overcrossing could result in room for the widening. The ongoing replacement of the bridges over the McKenzie River is designed for three lanes (plus shoulder) in each direction, as is the planned replacement of the cracked (and the temporary replacement) bridge over the Willamette. The recent reconstruction of the Creswell interchange resulted in an overpass with enough room for more lanes on I-5.


4. Beltline Highway: River Rd. to Coburg Rd. (Phase I) $ 20.0 million

In 2002, the TransPlan listed this project as potentially costing $17 million. The LCOG MPC removed this project from the "Constrained" list in the 20 year budget to try to squeeze most of the West Eugene Porkway into that constrained budget (a technical requirement for ultimate approval of the WEP, since "segmentation" of the funding is not allowed under federal law). Now that the WEP is formally cancelled due to numerous legal and funding obstacles, local governments are taking another look at widening the Beltline.

This project has zero money allocated, but the proposal suggests it could cost $100 million - the same figure this writer was told by an ODOT planner about five years ago. Widening this stretch would require rebuilding the Delta / Beltline interchange (while traffic would still be using it!), a new bridge across the Willamette, replacement of two overpasses over Beltline (Gilman and Norkenzie roads), and some property displacement (residential and commercial). It might even require relocation of Division Avenue, on the north side of Beltline west of the river (although it might not).

ODOT has started an Environmental Impact Statement process for widening the Beltline, and plans to spend up to $2,500,000 on the approval process. ODOT claims that eventual shifts to more efficient cars, electric vehicles and alternative fuels means that Peak Oil and Peak Traffic can be largely ignored, although this is extremely optimistic to the point of delusional thinking. At best, these alternatives will be able to mitigate the decline, as replacing the entire infrastructure even as the total available resources to make the shift are reduced is just a pipe dream. Carpooling would do more in the short and medium term to reduce energy consumption than hybrid cars, but that is a social issue, not the ability to buy new techno-toys.

It is worth noting that this stretch of highway is the busiest road in Lane County (more daily trips than I-5 through Eugene - Springfield) and is likely to become busier in the short run because Peace Health hospital moved to one of the worst possible locations in the region from the perspectives of land use, traffic efficiency and emergency operations during disasters. In the long run, gasoline rationing and / or much higher prices will make it difficult to keep traffic levels even relatively constant.

When the I-5 / Beltline Environmental Assessment was being considered, this writer complained that if the interchange was built, that would force additional construction on Beltline, since the new giant ramp was clearly intended as part of a larger vision of a bigger Beltline. This concern was publicly dismissed by ODOT officials, although it was correct.


5. Highway 126W/Veneta to Green Hill Rd. (D-STIP) 2.0 million

ODOT is hoping to spend this money on "development" (the D in D-STIP). Presumably this would go for an Environmental Impact Statement about the impacts of widening this stretch of highway to facilitate conversion of Veneta into a bedroom community for Eugene.

During the West Eugene Parkway EIS process, ODOT officials always claimed that they had no plans to widen 126 across Fern Ridge Reservoir, since the cost would be very high and getting legal approval for the environmental impacts would be extremely difficult. If the WEP had been approved, the Federal Highway Administration would have been sued. The "WETLANDS vs. FHWA" lawsuit would have included arguments about "segmentation" and "logical termini" since Federal laws prohibit federal aid highways that force additional construction not considered in the original approval. This type of violation is especially acute if the segmentation is done to avoid fully analyzing damage to sensitive ecological resources such as parklands, endangered species, wetlands, floodplains, and / or waterways.

There are probably several modest, cheap road fixes that could be implemented to reduce some of the severe safety hazards on this route that would make sense even if Peak Traffic is acknowledged as our future reality -- since Peak Traffic does not mean No Traffic, and a safer road would be in everyone's interest. But fixing existing roads is not as much fun for speculative developers hoping to add road capacity so their new subdivisions can be accommodated. Veneta also has water supply problems that limit growth potentials - and has few jobs of its own (beyond the mostly minimum wage jobs at the shopping mall and the Bi-Mart). While balancing housing and jobs in Veneta would be a good idea, it is probably not very realistic since (1) the economic difficulties we are experiencing are likely to get much worse, (2) Veneta's sprawling growth means that this balance will remain elusive and (3) this growth was always intended to be just a commuter zone for Eugene (cheap houses that depend on cheap gas for the commute).


6. Franklin Blvd., Ferry St. Bridge to Springfield Bridge 25.0 million

The City of Eugene had so much fun rebuilding Franklin Boulevard (for the Bus Rapid Transit system) that they want to rebuild it again.

This project estimates that $100 million would be spent to redesign and rebuild Franklin, although this time over a longer distance. The initial $25 million would be for planning and right of way (evidently some stuff is in the way).

This proposal would extend the "boulevard" treatment through Glenwood, since the City of Springfield hopes to replace the haphazard collection of industrial buildings, pawn shops and other low rent businesses with fancier stuff. However, the fantasy of relocating McKenzie Willamette hospital to the riverfront along Franklin Boulevard would be at least as dumb as the Peace Health "Riverbottom" location, since there are five dangerous dams directly upstream from this location. An ODOT official once told this writer that a dam break could result in a forty foot wall of water through Glenwood -- which would be a Willamette Valley tsunami. If McKenzie Willamette relocates, it should be further away from a river so in case of a major flood or earthquake induced dam failure there will be at least one hospital that is not submerged.

A hidden reason behind this project is the U of O Basketball Palace -- despite the presence of Bus Rapid Transit, there is not enough traffic capacity to handle the crowds that are anticipated at this facility. The arena will have about twelve thousand seats - and the Bus Rapid Transit has about four thousand riders a day. Therefore, it would take three days of BRT service to have the so-called EmX serve the arena.

Turn lanes from Franklin Blvd in the vicinity of the arena also would be massively jammed if not rebuilt for arena traffic.

This is one of several examples of how the public is going to be forced to help subsidize this sports complex despite numerous promises from U of O President Frohnmayer and other stadium supporters that public funds were not going to be used for this project.

In ancient Rome, the commoners were kept satiated with the distractions of bread and circuses (the latter included gladiator fights). In modern America, the public is similarly distracted with sports. The U of O has numerous buildings that would be death traps in an earthquake, there is a shortage of housing for students, university professors are being lured to higher paying jobs at other schools, and tuition rates keep rising. It is a sad sign of misguided priorties that an arena partially paid for by the blood money given by Nike CEO Phil Knight (money made through profiteering from quasi-slave labor at his factories in Indonesia) dominates the priorities at this institution ostensibly dedicated to higher education. It is also sad that the rhetoric of "sustainability" flowing from the University conveniently ignores this tremendous investment of energy and money so that people can watch other people throw a ball around.

This project is probably the worst example of transportation greenwash in the metro area. The Bus Rapid Transit line is the excuse to funnel huge amounts of overdevelopment (at least as long as cheap credit to fund it holds out). However, since the fancy bus can only handle a minority of this new traffic, the rest of the people are likely to drive to these new facilities. This means that the bus is going to increase energy consumption and worsen traffic, which is not how this transit system was marketed. Even if the bus was converted to light rail and powered by electricity from burning coal, natural gas and damns (as some voices have been urging), this would not solve the broader problem of transit systems used to facilitate overdevelopment that ultimately worsens car traffic -- at least as long as the gasoline remains relatively affordable and available.

The next BRT line planned for the metro area will go north from downtown Springfield to Peace Health's River Bottom site and Gateway shopping maul. Even if this would reduce car trips to the new hospital, it is not planned to open until at least two years after the new hospital site opens. It is still in the design phase now, but River Bottom is now open for hospital patients.

A third BRT line is planned for West Eugene to serve the Big Box stores and West Eugene Industrial Area. Lane Transit District has started an EIS to study this route, and it is in the phase of scoping of alternative routes - whether to focus mostly along West 11th, along the Amazon bike path until it crosses West 11th, or to go on 7th Place to Bailey Hill to Stewart Road to Bertelsen to West 11th. All three of these routes have major problems. There is no room on West 11th for widening to accommodate a bus only lane (or lanes) between Seneca and Garfield roads. Building an express bus along Amazon has major environmental obstacles along with eminent domain issues. And routing BRT along 7th to Stewart would avoid the right of way and environmental problems, but building an express bus through a lightly populated area that is deserted at night (and Stewart Road is always deserted) would be a waste of money.

A more reasonable BRT route would be along Highway 99 to the Bethel area, where large numbers of suburbanites live, but the City of Eugene is not urging LTD to prioritize that route. BRT on any West Eugene route would be mostly focused on commercial and industrial areas, not mixed use areas that are better served by public transit. One of the problems of West Eugene is that the populated areas are separated by tracts of big box stores, industrial warehouses and factories, and parklands / wetlands that are unsuitable for "development." If there is a partial solution for West Eugene, stopping the relentless construction of big box stores that are very car dependent would be a primary prerequisite.

Worse, no land use shifts are apparently contemplated for West Eugene to make public transit seem more reasonable - and the City has now closed off the possibility of this by allowing Home Depot and Lowe's (now under construction) to dominate the last large "vacant" areas along West 11th inside the Beltline. Do City or LTD planners seriously think that anyone will take BRT to buy lumber supplies at Lowe's?

Perhaps if the BRT line is ultimately reconstructed, the planners will choose not to have the route weave so much - a particularly poor design choice. Incompetence in public bureaucracies is usually rewarded with an increase in appropriation of tax dollars - in the short run, the only possible recourse the public has is to vote NO on the November 2008 transportation funding increase on the City of Eugene budget.

from the official justification:

There is significant evidence of accelerated development activity throughout the corridor. The UO is beginning construction of a 13,000 seat arena which will lead to increased traffic in all modes, and exacerbate existing deficiencies in the segment west of 1-5. Springfield has been approached by a number of potential development opportunities along the corridor east of 1-5, and the adjoining north/south street (McVay Highway). Any of these potential opportunities will severely tax the existing facility


7. Eugene-Springfield Highway (SR 126) @ Main St. 50.0 million

This project would construct a grade separated interchange between Route 126 and Main Street in Thurston. The project description points to traffic congestion and the difficulty that pedestrians and bicyclists have negotiating this intersection, but the real reason is to expand the road capacity in that area to facilitate large scale construction of subdivisions in the Thurston area. The Route 126 - Jasper extension is now being completed, and the interchange is a major component of this full project, although its approval was ignored when the Jasper extension was considered. (The Jasper extension was funded solely with County highway funds, so Federal highway laws against segmentation did not apply.)

In previous decades, the long term wish of ODOT has been to extend 126 across the Middle Fork through Pleasant Hill to Highway 58. This would provide second truck route between I-5 and Highway 58, a major alternative to I-5 through Southern Oregon for California bound truck traffic. Until that ultimate extension is budgeted and constructed, the 126 extension to Jasper makes it a bit faster for Springfield traffic to get to 58, although they have to slow down while driving through Lowell. It is also worth noting that the "Region 2050" plan proposed by LCOG a few years ago suggested that Pleasant Hill between Highway 58 and the Middle Fork should be added into the Urban Growth Boundary. Filling in all that farmland with ticky-tacky houses is probably the top long term priority for the region's speculative developers who hope to lure Californians and others to move this region -- we will still have drinking water when Las Vegas does not, property values are cheaper here, and the rhetoric of sustainability is a nice marketing tool to attract people who realize that the communities they live in are not even pretending to address the triple crisis of Peak Oil, Climate Change and Overshoot.


8. W. 11th/Terry St. to Green Hill Rd. $20.0 million

In 2002, when the Cities of Eugene and Springfield, Lane Transit District and Lane County removed this project from the TransPlan to try to squeeze the West Eugene Porkway into the 20 year constrained list (see project 4, above), this project was listed at $4.5 million. It was eventually refigured as $5.5 million -- but an increase of nearly 400% in about five years is still impressive, a much greater increase than the rise of construction costs. Either the planners had the original costs too low, or the current cost is too high. While it is true that the demise of the West Eugene Porkway means that this road segment will remain the primary highway access from the west, the proposal in 2002 was to widen this two lane road to four lanes, plus bike path, median and sidewalk. This stretch is not very long, no grade separated interchanges or other major structures are planned, so $20 million would be a very fancy road upgrade.

Perhaps this cost inflation shows that the real purpose of many of these road projects is a form of wealth transfer from the motoring public to the road construction and sand and gravel companies who have a virtual stranglehold over transportation policy decisions via their bought and paid for politicians and the unelected transportation bureaucracy.