The new EmX, which will run west from Eugene Station, is finally nearing the construction phase, after a seven-year planning process marked by bitter opposition and even an ongoing federal lawsuit. But those who object to the West Eugene line say the fight is far from over.
The extension along West 6th, 7th and 11th (map) has generated more controversy than the first two lines combined, said Tom Schwetz, planning and development manager for Lane Transit District. Eugene residents are divided, with a slight majority favoring the project.
Bob Macherione of Our Money Our Transit says that not only is EmX not needed, but that it is much too expensive. Of the 96 million budget, three-quarters will come from federal gas taxes and the rest is from state lottery revenue, but Macherione claims that regular bus routes have been cancelled to fund EmX.
EmX includes exclusive lanes so the bus avoids traffic, as well as more frequent service, distinctive stations, off-board fare collection and boarding at two doors. These features help make EmX more efficient, faster and more visible. “It’s not just a pole on the ground with an LTD sign on it,” said Schwetz. EmX has the benefits of light rail with a cheaper price tag and less construction.
But to Macherione, that price tag is still far too high and the construction could kill businesses, including his Sports Car Shop on West 6th. Our Money Our Transit has brought a federal lawsuit against LTD alleging that the Federal Transit Authority’s Finding of No Significant Impact ignored business and environmental concerns.
Meanwhile, LTD crews have started analyzing how to move utilities out of the way, so parts of the route will have single-lane closures on some summer nights.
Schwetz said that the decision is out of LTD’s hands. “What (the opposition) is saying is that the federal government has made a decision to fund this project, and they don’t like it. I don’t see that as an LTD issue.” Eugene City Council voted in favor of the extension after hearing from both sides of the debate.
And while planning took seven years, that’s par for the course for any federally funded transit project. “Opposition didn’t really hold up the process at all. They were active participants, let’s put it this way,” said Schwetz, “But we didn’t add a year to look at something the opposition wanted us to look at.”
Lisa VanWinkle, communications coordinator for the West Eugene EmX, said that transit has an image problem, and many businesses on the route don’t believe that their customers will ride EmX. “There’s a stereotype that people have in their minds about people who use transit,” she said.
Residents also might be concerned that developers will build high-rise student housing along the route, as they did with the other EmX lines.
But Macherione said that the real reason the West Eugene EmX has generated so much opposition, is that LTD “broke the public trust and alienated the taxpayer base,” and says he is neither anti-transit nor connected to the Tea Party.
“LTD thinks we’re hooked up with the Koch Brothers, but they are so uninterested in this,” he said. “This is a local issue with a lot of passion behind it, and once you start seeing what’s really going on in LTD, you start going ‘This isn’t right, somebody’s got to stop this.’ It comes down that we’re going to be the ones to stop it.
Written by Rebecca Brewster.