WEP October 2003 update
On October 18, 2003, the Register Guard published an article (copied below, after this commentary) that provided an update on ODOT's decision to try to get the West Eugene Parkway approved by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). This article stated that the final design will not have the WEP / Beltline grade separated interchange, which ODOT and FHWA are on record stating is needed for the project to function properly (without the interchange, the WEP/BL intersection would be incredibly jammed with traffic). ODOT and FHWA This was stated in the 1997 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Currently, the interchange is not funded in the 20 year "TransPlan" regional highway budget, and this is one of the many illegalities keeping the WEP from being approved.
Unfortunately, ODOT's apparent decision to complete the Final Environmental Impact Statement -- something that has been in limbo -- is not really a surprise, it was expected by WEP opponents, especially after ODOT spent another half million dollars this year to redesign the project and change the traffic statistics for Eugene area roads. Nevertheless, full funding of the WEP is not yet allocated, the WEP violates nearly every federal law that regulates transportation projects, and the community is divided over the project (a division that would be overwhelming opposition if Eugene taxpayers had to vote for a tax increase to pay for the shortfall).
ODOT's main obstacle in the immediate future is whether the increased price tag can be met or not. There are many, many other legal hurdles that ODOT would have to pass - the use BLM land set aside for conservation, the illegal use of parkland for highways, the destruction of endangered species habitat, the destruction of wetlands, violation of federal highway guidelines about independent utility, logical termini and segmentation -- but the BIG one right now is MONEY.
ODOT now claims that the new version of WEP would not cause major traffic snarls - but they did this by downscaling much of the new sprawl planned for west Eugene. It's circular logic - we need the WEP because there's going to be all this "growth" - now they claim that we can have the WEP because there's not going to be as much growth.
Of course, once the peak of natural gas becomes obvious to everyone, and the availability of petroleum shifts - new highways will be the least of anyone's concerns.
ODOT is in a quandary because they want the project but they know that the full cost is unaffordable. $112 million instead of $88 million isn't a big price increase - but that is still in 1997 dollars, so the real cost is considerably more than this. If construction inflation is factored in, and the $13 million for the extension from WEP to Veneta is included (Lane County's cost estimate), then the unoffficial $150 million estimate from Spring 2002 is still accurate. I have no idea what the cost would be to extend WEP to I-105 (Wash/Jeff bridge), but one insider suggested that $50 million would be a low starting figure. The WEP officially is supposed to connect "126" with "I-105/I-5," and the traffic models show that WEP would overload 6th and 7th, therefore requiring some sort of new connection at the WEP's eastern terminus to 105. The Whiteaker Community is very concerned about this, and neither ODOT nor the City state they have any interest in that extension (although the federal hwy laws about "logical termini," "segmentation" and "independent utility" would require it).
Citizens should consider the enormous shortfall in other road projects, the lack of funds for cracked bridges (one third has been appropriated for the next decade), the three billion dollar wish list for new roads in Oregon (and a half billion budget from the legislature for what is euphemistically called "modernization"), peak oil, climate change, etc. It seems likely that ODOT may continue to push for the WEP but it will never be built -- or at least never be completed even if bulldozer companies succeed in tearing up the first part of the route in Bertelsen Nature Park.
Over two years ago, ODOT promised NO BUILD at the West Eugene Charette (Charade?). I was surprised, but said to them that I would believe it when they transferred the land they bought for the WEP to the BLM. That didn't happen. If the WEP does get canceled (or shot down in federal court), it will be worth noting that it ODOT's decision in June 2001 had been implemented then, we could have already transferred the money for WEP toward alternative projects: finishing Beltline and repairing 99, fixing West 11th intersections (at $2 million, that would be half the money already spent to STUDY the WEP), and other, sensible parts of the WEP Alternative. Check out the map of the alternative Two years would be plenty of time to transfer the money, publish an Environmental Assessment (probably needed for the redesigned completion of Beltline) and to actually build the road parts of the alternative.
In other words, if the Pape brothers, Torrey, and their developer buddies hadn't blocked ODOT's decision in 2001, the road part of the alternative would be nearing completion now.
The debate on the WEP is a distraction from figuring out how the Eugene area can survive and thrive past the era of cheap oil. How do we invest the remaining oil - more "growth" or on renewable energy equipment and relocalizing production?
October 18, 2003
Report may put parkway in gear
By Joe Mosley
The controversial West Eugene Parkway project, which was put in jeopardy last spring when the federal government threatened to pull funding, seems to be back on track - by way of bureaucratic maneuvers likely to renew debate over the 5.8-mile bypass.
An upcoming report from the Oregon Department of Transportation, based on an update of future traffic projections, is expected to counter federal concerns that the parkway would be insufficient to handle at least 20 years of growth in west Eugene.
While the proposed project is currently held up by a land use appeal, the ODOT report is seen as a major step forward by parkway proponents.
"I had some indication these new numbers were going to allow them to provide a roadway, using the West Eugene Parkway alignment," said Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey. "That's good news to me because it's what I think needs to happen in Eugene."
A Federal Highway Administration assessment last spring cast doubt on the parkway's ability to adequately serve the growing west Eugene area over the next 20 years - which would make it ineligible for federal funding, and would almost certainly kill the project.
But the state Transportation Department, which is administering the project, asked Lane County and the city of Eugene for updated projections for growth in the area.
The new parkway report - expected to be presented to the traffic engineering staffs of local governments within the next two weeks - will characterize the parkway as viable due to more moderate growth rates now projected within the urban growth boundary west of Eugene.
"The city's and county's projections of developable land went down, and so did the traffic projections on the West Eugene Parkway out into the future," ODOT spokesman Patrick Cooney said. "So we think now we're in the ballpark to be in position to go to the (federal) environmental impact statement process."
Opponents of the project reacted to news of the coming ODOT report with skepticism.
"Our position is that the problems with the West Eugene Parkway are fundamental," said Kevin Matthews, president of Friends of Eugene. "It's not a matter of a few details, and it's not a matter of how the project is gerrymandered."
Eugene City Councilor David Kelly, who adamantly opposes the parkway, said it will be up to ODOT to offer a detailed explanation of how and why the growth rates have changed.
"I hope the public will understand what has changed - that either the numbers were wrong before or the numbers are wrong now, or there is new information," Kelly said. "I have no basis to judge what it is. But whatever it is, I hope ODOT will be forthcoming."
In addition to the capacity issue, last spring's federal assessment raised questions about the the state's ability to build the bypass within a budget laid out in the Metropolitan Area Transportation Plan, which coordinates all local transportation projects.
But Cooney said the budget problem appears to have been solved by eliminating an interchange at Belt Line Road that had been part of the original parkway plan, and by the Legislature's inclusion of a bridge at the project's west end on a list of projects that will be replaced using special funding.
The interchange was scratched when a final phase in the ongoing widening of Belt Line to four lanes was put on hold - because the parkway project left too little money in the overall TransPlan budget for both projects to be completed.
The amount of money saved by cutting the interchange was not available, but elimination of the bridge - where the parkway crosses a railroad right-of-way - will reduce the parkway's budget by about $10 million, Cooney said.
"We're planning on meeting with technical staff at the county and city soon to make sure we've got an agreeable and financially doable solution to this problem," he said.
Estimates from at least two years ago put the total project cost at $88 million.
No current estimate is available, but ODOT officials said an updated cost projection is underway.
Torrey said there may be some City Council discussion of the report after it is presented to city staff. But he said the council is more likely to next take up the parkway issue - probably next month - when the city's legal team presents its response to findings handed down early this year by the state Land Use Board of Appeals.
"I'm anxious to see us move forward," the mayor said. "I guess what I would suggest is we'd best get all these legal actions in front of us and deal with them as they come up."
LUBA ruled on objections to the project in March, finding four errors in changes to planning documents that local governments made last year to allow the parkway to proceed.
The board of appeals ruled that local governments failed to explain how the parkway would affect adjacent farmland and how it would fit into integrated land use and transportation plans required by the state. LUBA also found a pair of technical errors that included a factual dispute over whether the parkway would harm vegetation and wildlife.
Opponents have maintained that the parkway would encourage sprawl in west Eugene, shift traffic congestion from West 11th Avenue onto Sixth and Seventh avenues, and pose threats to plant and animal habitat as it crosses the West Eugene Wetlands.
The bypass would run from the west ends of Sixth and Seventh to a spot on Highway 126 just beyond Green Hill Road.
Eugene voters have twice - in 1986 and 2001 - approved the parkway project in advisory votes.
Its supporters have contended that existing roadways are inadequate to handle either residential traffic or through-traffic from Highway 126.
"This is not just some folks in Veneta needing to get into Eugene," Torrey said. "It's bigger than that."
September 2003 alert from WETLANDS
WEST EUGENE PARKWAY ALERT
PLEASE CALL THE GOVERNOR TO URGE HIM TO STOP THE WEP!
WETLANDS: West Eugene Transportation, Land and Neighborhood Design Solutions
The West Eugene Parkway (WEP) approval process has been fermenting beneath public scrutiny in recent months, and is poised to move forward toward final approval in the near future, despite numerous technical, financial and legal obstacles that make its ultimate construction unlikely. (The WEP violates nearly every federal law regarding federal aid highways, something that Bush's environmental deregulations has not changed.)
ODOT senior management is about to make a formal decision whether to complete the Environmental Impact Statement, and your voice is needed to revive public opposition to the project (contact information for the Governor's office is at the end of this email). Ask the Governor for NO BUILD on the WEP and to focus on more sustainable solutions for traffic, environmental protection and fixing existing roads that have dangerous, cracked bridges.
The official price tag of the WEP has been $88 million since the late 1990s. This was the figure used in 2002 when Lane County, the cities of Eugene and Springfield, and Lane Transit District amended the region's "Transplan" to include most of the WEP (they deleted the required WEP / Beltline grade-separated interchange from the TransPlan in order to play financial shell games to pretend that we can afford the WEP).
WETLANDS's web-page has detailed material supporting why the true cost of the project is over $150 million. That pricetag is based solely on official figures and projections, and has been privately confirmed as a reasonable guess of the ultimate cost.
Whatever the eventual price tag, it will be far above the official $88 million cost, and therefore, local governments will need to determine how to re-allocate expected federal highway revenues in order for the Federal Highway Administration to approve the project sometime next year.
Oregon's highway network has $5 billion (five billion!) in emergency repairs and replacement of bridges, particularly on I-5 and I-84. The transportation financing passed by the state legislature this year would pay for about one-third of this, and federal highway dollars will not be enough to cover the shortfall.
Why would the state prioritize building a new, overpriced freeway through a nature preserve to benefit sprawl developers who pave farmland when we lack the funds to fix all of our cracked and crumbling bridges? Perhaps the answer lies with a closer examination of ODOT's local "Transportation Commissioner" - Randy Pape. Mr. Pape is CEO of the Pape Group, one of the NW's largest bulldozing and heavy equipment companies -- and thus, has a direct financial interest in road construction and sprawl development. See http://www.odot.state.or.us/comm/newscenter/commission.htm for a complete list of Mr. Pape's various business ties. At a minimum, Mr. Pape should recuse himself from the WEP decision. In the long run, ODOT's "Oregon Transportation Commission" needs to be diversified so it is not merely a tool of Chambers of Commerce and real estate developers.
ODOT'S NEW DESIGNS
During 2003, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been
spending about a half million of our dollars to determine if they can
craft a new highway design that would not completely clog west Eugene
roads, since previous analyses revealed that the WEP would create enormous
traffic snarls. In other words, it would be a parking lot, not a parkway.
Due to this problem, ODOT and its new subcontractor are toying with different designs that would allegedly not cause as many traffic problems, although they have not solicited any public input in these new designs.
PREVIOUS PROMISES FOR NO-BUILD
All of this is particularly bizarre, because ODOT announced in June 2001 -- at a multi-governmental meeting called the "West Eugene Charette" -- that they would pick "No Build" for the highway and move to implement fixes to existing roads in the area that would cost much less and not wreck the nature preserves of the West Eugene Wetlands. (That decision ultimately was challenged by the Eugene City Council, and ODOT resumed work on the WEP after a 51 to 49 vote of the Eugene voters in November 2001 -- even though the WEP is a Federal Highway Administration decision whether it can be built or not.)
LIES, DAMN LIES, AND TRAFFIC STATISTICS
This summer, the Lane Council of Governments (LCOG) and ODOT revised the traffic projection estimates for west Eugene for the Year 2025 (the target date for WEP completion). LCOG scaled back the projected "growth" in that area in order to tinker with the traffic statistics. This sets up a "Catch 22" -- previously, we've been told we need the highway because there will be lots of sprawl in west Eugene. Now, we will be told that there won't be so much sprawl, and therefore the highway is now permissible (because it won't overwhelm the road network).
LIMITS TO GROWTH
These projections ignore any natural limitations to sprawl development such as finite petroleum supplies, water issues, or other limits to growth. If highway planning had to include the reality of the peak of petroleum production, massive road expansion would seem even sillier. The best projections is that in 2025 (the design year for the WEP), most of the world's oil extraction outside the Middle East will have been exhausted, and therefore the Saudi, Iraqi, Iranian, etc. oil fields will be of even more importance to the global economy. However, by then, even those fields will be in obvious decline. Will we use the remaining oil to relocalize production, build lots of renewable energy equipment (solar panels, wind mills, etc) -- or to keep the current paradigm of Wal-Mart, more freeways and more military efforts to control the oil?