Top Lies about the West Eugene Porkway

 

“The voters of Eugene voted for it.”

The WEP is a federal project that will be approved or rejected by the Federal Highway Administration, not local governments. The 1986 and 2001 advisory votes merely told the City of Eugene to lobby federal and state decision makers, the voters did not approve the project. Neither the City of Eugene nor Lane County have offered to contribute a single dime toward the construction costs. The real level of support is between the 51 to 49 vote for the WEP in 2001 and the 8 to 1 vote in 2000 against raising the state gas tax to pay for more roads. Public opinion on the WEP is evenly split if money is not an issue, but is overwhelmingly against raising taxes for more roads.

In June 2001, Mayor Jim Torrey, County Commissioner Bobby Green and Oregon Transportation Commissioner Randy Pape (brother of then City Councilor Gary Pape) were part of a consensus decision at the "West Eugene Charette" to cancel the highway because it violated too many laws and the money was not there. The Charette decision was agreed to by the Federal Highway Administration, the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Transportation, Lane County and the City of Eugene. The decision by the City Council four years later to remove the WEP from the transportation plans was merely overdue implementation of the 2001 consensus of all of the involved government agencies. The ultimate decision to cancel the WEP was made in March 2007 when the FHWA published its "No Build" Record of Decision - the WEP is a FEDERAL issue, not a local project.

“The money is there.”

Only $17 million has been appropriated for the $200 million WEP. Fully funding the WEP would require cancellation of most of the area’s other large road projects. Oregon’s interstate highway bridges have $5 billion in emergency repairs and replacements, yet only one-third of this cost is appropriated over the next decade. Since the 2001 vote, ODOT has entered into an agreement with the City of Eugene to get the City to pay for maintenance for half of the highway - a new condition not disclosed during the Measure 20-54 campaign.

“If we don’t build it, the State’s money for the WEP will go to other communities.”

Parkway proponents claim we must build it or the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) will give the initial $17 million appropriation to another community. However, if Oregon Transportation Commissioner Randy Pape (brother of City Councilor Gary Pape) agreed, it would be easy to use that money to finish Beltline, a project approved in 1995.

In June 2001, ODOT realized the WEP has huge legal problems, environmental impacts, cost increases and was not needed to fix traffic problems, and promised to pick “No Build,” finish Beltline and develop other alternative projects. WEP supporters state that this $17 million cannot be used to restore education cuts or improve other social services (WEP opponents are aware of this), yet never mention how new roads are a huge subsidy for land speculators seeking to expand the Urban Growth Boundary to build new suburbs and shopping malls on farmland.

The WETLANDS alternative is largely based on ODOT’s June 2001 “No Build” promise.

“The WEP would cost $88 million.”

In September 2003, ODOT planners admitted they have been “unable to obtain documentation on how the ... cost estimates were prepared” - they cannot remember how they determined it would cost $88 million. In 2003, ODOT’s official estimate rose to $128 million and the November 2004 estimate is $169 million. This price tag does not include the related widening of West 11th from Terry Street to Green Hill ($5.5 million), widening intersections on 6th and 7th Avenue intersection between WEP and I-105 ($1.5 million), and the eventual WEP extension to Veneta. In spring 2002, Lane County estimated that extending the WEP to Veneta (by widening 126 to four lanes from the WEP across the lake) would cost $13,319,000, although it would probably cost a lot more than that.

These estimates also omit the future intersection upgrade or grade separation at WEP / Seneca (to cope with driver frustration at the lack of access). The WEP’s current design would not have left turn lanes from the WEP onto Seneca (at the current 5th / Seneca intersection), since ODOT was not able to craft a design that would not create a massive traffic snarl. ODOT plans to make part of the WEP a local road because it would be too congested to meet State highway design requirements.

“The cost increase is the opponents’ fault.”

ODOT has consistently downplayed the cost of the full scope of the project (ie. the interchange ramps between Beltline and the WEP). Environmental opponents are not responsible for the new, more realistic WEP cost estimate. This “segmentation” of the full project cost is like a cost estimate for a fancy new car that omitted the cost of the engine and the wheels in an effort to make the car seem more affordable.

“It can be built in an environmentally sensitive way.”

The WEP would decimate the Bureau of Land Management’s West Eugene Wetlands restoration efforts. It would slice through some of the last remaining native wet prairie habitat -- only 1/1,000th of this ecosystem remains in the Willamette Valley. The WEP would destroy habitat for endangered plants and animals, pollute Amazon Creek, increase air pollution, and clearcut forest in Bertelsen Nature Park. It would require enormous amounts of sand and gravel, enough to fill a line of gravel trucks from Eugene to Seattle and back. Wetlands “mitigation” would not replace native habitats, and there is not enough acreage in the West Eugene Wetlands to replace the wetlands the “parkway” would destroy.

“We need WEP to support growth and jobs.”

The WEP would go through the west Eugene industrial area, yet it is not needed for better access for these businesses (the WETLANDS alternative would include a new connector from First Avenue and Seneca to 99 and then to Second and Garfield, plus intersection work around the industrial area for better traffic flow). Instead, the WEP would encourage conversion of industrially zoned lands for commercial strip malls and big boxes. West Eugene has lots of abandoned industrial buildings and vacant lots that need clean up for smart reuse. Some of these “brownfields” that should be used instead of expanding the Urban Growth Boundary include the Union Pacific railyards (if cleaned up) and the Second and Garfield area (a central location to consider for Eugene’s new hospital).

“It would relieve congestion and improve safety on West 11th Avenue.”

West 11th intersections with roads that connect to the WEP (Seneca, Bailey Hill, Bertelsen, Beltline, Green Hill) would have substantial congestion increases from north-south traffic going between WEP and West 11th.

The WEP route would go through the least populated part of Eugene. Bethel area traffic would have to pass by the lightly used Roosevelt Blvd to reach the redundant WEP. Southwest Eugene drivers would not benefit if the WEP is built, and River Road motorists would suffer from WEP traffic clogging the 6th / 7th / Chambers intersection.

It would cost about $2 million to fix West 11th, half of the cost spent to study the WEP.

“The Federal government changed the laws when we were ready to start construction.”

The 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, prohibits “segmentation” of large projects into several smaller ones to avoid full disclosure of adverse impacts. The 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Act requires metropolitan areas to have road projects fully funded within the constraints of a 20 year transportation budget - the funds need not be appropriated to start construction, but the TransPlan must identify future funding sources. In 2000, the FHWA reminded the City of these legal requirements, since the City was proposing a blatantly illegal WEP version that would quickly lose in federal court. In 1996, when sued by citizens, the FHWA did not defend the WEP in federal court, since they knew they would lose, and they conceded defeat without going to a trial.

“Voters have rejected the alternative.”

Measure 20-53, which was decisively rejected in November 2001, was not the WEP alternative. It included building two-thirds of the WEP, which would be more illegal than building the whole thing (federal law prohibits this segmentation). 20-53 was crafted by City bureaucrats who want the WEP, and it was poorly crafted. WEP opponents who campaigned against Measure 20-54 (the pro-highway vote) did not endorse this inadequate idea.

“We need inter-governmental mediation to determine what to do instead of WEP”

The West Eugene Charette, an inter-governmental meeting of the Federal, State, County and City governments, convened on June 18 and 19, 2001. It agreed that the WEP should be canceled with a "No Build" decision and that Beltline should be completed instead. This decision was ignored by pro-WEP forces (Mayor Torrey, Pape brothers) who put the WEP on the November 2001 ballot, hoping that public ratification of an election questionnaire would force State and Federal officials to build the highway (or at least give the developers a tool to attack the anti-WEP political forces).

“An alternative remains unknown.”

The WETLANDS alternative is essentially an expansion of the June 2001 "No Build" decision of the West Eugene Charette, plus some additional descriptions of what could be done based on extensive review of planning documents, feedback from transportation officials, politicians and citizen activists. It is unlikely to be precisely what would be built instead of WEP, but it describes a range of solutions that are practical and feasible for less cost and greater community cohesion.

“The environmentalists agree a new east-west expressway is needed.”

In 2002, Crandall-Arambula, a Portland architecture firm, was asked by some WEP opponents to look at the potential for alternatives to the WEP similar to the Portland region’s decision to cancel its Western Bypass in favor of land use shifts to concentrate growth near new transit stations. Unfortunately, C&A developed a new WEP route that would have been twice as bad as ODOT’s version -- it would cost more, have more wetland destruction, go through the Royal Blue Organics blueberry farm and be even more illegal. C&A was also working for Peace Health on their sprawl project along the McKenzie River when they developed this ridiculous proposal.
The WETLANDS alternative would fix west Eugene traffic issues without building a new expressway.

“It’s a parkway.”

Genuine “parkways” exclude truck traffic and are usually operated by park agencies as a scenic drive. The WEP is designed for triple trailer trucks traveling 55 mph, and would decimate parklands.

“The WEP is needed to get to the coast.”

The western terminus of the WEP, near the current 126 bridge over the railroad tracks (just west of town) is 52 miles from Florence. Even Veneta (the ultimate terminus) is still 46 miles from Florence. Some of the WEP money should be used to fix safety problems on 126 in the Coast Range.

 

An extra lie rarely expressed publicly -- the hidden assumption behind the WEP:

“Gasoline will stay at a constant price and availability forever.”

The WEP proposal pretends that gasoline will stay cheap and abundant forever. This is as unrealistic as the timber industry's assumptions that they would never run out of giant trees to cut down. Increasing global demand and diminishing supplies means that gas prices will go up, which reduces the “need” for the WEP. After the peak of petroleum production, the region will need sustainable industries such as solar and wind power production, thriving local businesses, better public transit and protected farmland feeding the cities.