WETLANDS: West Eugene Transportation
Land and Neighborhood Design Solutions
WETLANDS Alternative, Reasons WEP Was Not Approved
Please view the slideshow (under the WEP menu at the top of the page) for an introduction to the West Eugene Porkway and the WETLANDS alternative. NO BUILD for the WEP was formally selected by Federal Highway Administration in 2007.
published in The Register-Guard newspaper on November 17, 2005
Let's look at entire picture of West
By Mark Robinowitz
The Register-Guard’s coverage of the City Council’s recent removal of support for the proposed West Eugene Parkway (WEP) has omitted important pieces of the story.
The WEP would be a federal-aid highway, not a City of Eugene project. Ultimately, the decision to build or cancel it will be made by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The FHWA is in charge of the federal funds and approval process, and the BLM controls the parklands threatened by the WEP.
The West Eugene Parkway proposal came from the 1950s plan for a Roosevelt Freeway, which was canceled in 1972 because of intense neighborhood objections. Afterwards, the road was scaled back and renamed a "Parkway.”
In 1996, FHWA was sued in Federal court by citizens for violating federal laws regarding "segmentation” of highway approvals, and the agency withdrew its 1990 approval of the WEP. FHWA officials declined the opportunity to argue their case in court, tacitly admitting the project was illegal.
In June 2001, after it became clear the WEP was an unworkable project, an intergovernmental meeting called "West Eugene Charette” brought together the City of Eugene, Lane County, State and Federal agencies to examine the issues. They reached a consensus to select "No Build” and finish Beltline Highway instead. On July 25, 2001, City Councilor Pat Farr stated the parkway would probably not be built, and that routing some traffic up Highway 99, across Roosevelt and then down Beltline would be part of the solution, and would require work at key intersections.
The November 2001 advisory vote about the Parkway did not require federal agencies to approve it, and it did not allocate any money toward construction. Parkway enthusiasts who spent $120,000 on a media blitz to promote passage of this referendum claimed "The Money is There" and the State would maintain the highway.
After the vote, local governments quietly admitted that the $88 million price tag in 2001 omitted key parts of the project (an expensive interchange with Beltline). Their most recent official estimate is $169 million, double the cost used to sell the road. The City of Eugene also agreed to assume responsibility for maintaining half of the highway, an enormous "unfunded mandate" that was not part of the electoral promises.
Since 2001, the Oregon Department of Transpoirtation has spent more millions to study the WEP, but has not been able to find an option that is affordable or legal. In early October, ODOT unveiled its latest parkway version, a revival of the "Couplet Alternative” rejected by ODOT in 1985 as unworkable and unpopular. This design would route Beltline traffic onto Fifth and Seventh Avenues between Seneca and Highway 99, and would add sharp curves and extra traffic lights. (The map in the Register-Guard did not show ODOT's newest proposal.)
The $1.7 million awarded by ODOT over the past year to finish the Environmental Impact Statement is about the same amount of money that would be needed to fix intersections along West 11th Avenue. If the charette’s "No Build" consensus had been implemented in 2001, West 11th could have already been fixed, and ODOT could have used the $17 million appropriated for WEP to finish Beltline Road (a project approved in 1995). Now that ODOT has essentially admitted defeat with its revival of the failed "Couplet" design and the City has withdrawn its endorsement, sensible solutions to west Eugene traffic flow can be implemented.
The WEP is not designed for current congestion snarls, but for traffic problems in the year 2025. The Lane Council of Governments, which crafted the traffic models, predicted last fall that gasoline prices would rise to $2.50 per gallon by 2025. This mistake was rooted in their refusal to look at "Peak Oil" -- the rise and fall of global petroleum production.
Whether Peak Oil is here now, or is still a couple years in the future, the end of cheap oil will force major changes to transportation planning long before 2025. We will need to ensure existing roads and bridges can be maintained and work at their optimum efficiency, land use must be better coordinated with transportation, and public transit needs substantial improvement.
The most important issues are what economy our region, our country and our planet will have in 2025 when the petroleum supplies will be in decline. Eugene could thrive by focusing on renewable energy, local food production, and other industries that will still be able to generate jobs after we pass Peak Oil.
Mark Robinowitz is the "road scholar" for WETLANDS: West Eugene Transportation, Land and Neighborhood Design Solutions.
The primary "road scholar" for the WETLANDS alternative was Mark Robinowitz. All articles on SustainEugene.org are written by Mark Robinowitz unless indicated by another author.
Additional contributions and input to the WETLANDS alternative were made by Jan Spencer, Majeska Seese-Green, Sarah Charlesworth, Linda Swisher and Jim Ekins. Several officials involved in the West Eugene Parkway project provided feedback on the map and some of the concepts behind the alternative.
Special thanks to Barbara Kelley of Save Our ecoSystems (SOS) for her many years of persistence in working to protect the West Eugene Wetlands from this horrible highway, and for her assistance in providing invaluable materials used in the preparation of this report.
The work to develop the WETLANDS alternative was volunteer labor -- neither the primary author nor any of the additional contributors received any funds. About six million dollars was spent to "study” the WEP, money that could have been used to implement much of the WETLANDS alternative.
WETLANDS wishes to thank the Helios Resource Network and Robin Irish for financial support toward the printing of this report, which enabled its distribution to neighborhood organizations, environmental groups, businesses, elected officials and transportation planners.
Whiteaker Community Council was the fiscal sponsor of the WETLANDS project.
Please click on the "laws" link (under the West Eugene Porkway menu) to read summaries of some of the reasons why the WEP was not built. WETLANDS spent many years working hard to keep the WEP from being approved and prevent the need for a lawsuit.
WETLANDS worked to stop the West Eugene Parkway by monitoring the Environmental Impact Statement process and taking citizens on tours of the West Eugene Wetlands.
The WEP was one of the most illegal highways ever proposed in the US, and WETLANDS did extremely detailed work to document the legal obstacles to its approval by the Federal Highway Administration (an approval that has been a "year in the future" since 1999).
The WETLANDS alternative was developed by reviewing the history of the WEP (which dates to the 1950s), attending official meetings where critical details were disclosed, extensive field work along the route, input from numerous citizens, groups, and participants in the official process, examining history of successful and unsuccessful highway fights in other communities and federal legal issues on transportation and environmental impacts. Printed publication will facilitate review of these suggestions by the broader community.
Ultimately, cancellation of the WEP could force a serious, regional discussion of sustainability that involves the entire community -- at the very least, it will require a major revision for long term planning for the region.
WETLANDS Advisory Board (2003 to 2006, during the preparation of WETLANDS v. FHWA)
Barbara Kelley, Save Our ecoSystems (SOS sued to stop the WEP in 1996)
Nena Lovinger, Lane County Land Watch
David Monk, formerly with Oregon Toxics Alliance
Majeska Seese-Green, Whiteaker Community Council
Linda Swisher, expert botanist and community activist
affiliations for identification purposes only