Hidden History of the West Eugene Parkway
June 2006: last gasp?
Public support for WEP is dropping
1986: about 80% of Eugene voters endorsed the WEP
WEP is a Federal project not subject to City decisions
June 24, 2002
November 2001 City of Eugene referendum:
The new DEIS should describe what happened behind the scenes, away from public input and scrutiny, that caused ODOT to shift from advocating “No Build” on June 19, 2001 to promoting the highway two months later. None of the objective conditions changed during that time period – the funding is still unavailable for the “WEP System Cost,” the legal obstacles remain formidable, and the potential for a LUTRAQ style solution continues to grow as more and more citizens realize that the highway won’t solve congestion and that the environmental damage could not be mitigated.
The November 2001 51- to 49-percent vote for the West Eugene Parkway did not approve the project or authorize any money for it. It merely authorized the City to lobby federal and state agencies who would make the decisions to build – or reject – the highway. City votes cannot determine Federal policy.
Eugene voters were deadlocked; the nearly tie vote was not a mandate to build the so-called Parkway. The YES on 54 (17,864) received 664 votes more than the NO on 54 (17,220). If 333 YES votes had been NOs, No would have won.
20-54 proponents in the construction and real estate industries outspent opponents by 3-1, which makes the nearly tie vote less of a mandate. If the two sides had equal budgets for outreach, 20-54 would probably have lost.
The fact that only 35 thousand people in a city of about 140,000 chose to vote indicates that many citizens feel disenfranchised, whether they are for or against the freeway.
“The Money is There”
Before the vote, Mayor Torrey, State Representative Robert Ackerman, Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green, and Oregon Transportation Commissioner Randy Papé claimed “The Money is There” in paid newspaper advertisements.
Gas tax dollars would be used to build WEP, but the amount of tax dollars in the pipeline is not enough for the full cost. Elected officials are split on the project - some like it, some do not.
The State was not committed to build the WEP in 2001 - or in 2005. If Oregon Transportation Commissioner Randy Pape agreed, the $17 million allocated to WEP could easily be used to complete Beltline (a project approved in 1995).
The $17 million figure obscured the fact that the official price tag was $88 million (in 2001) and that this figure ignored key parts such as the Beltline / WEP interchange (which added to the $88 million cost). In late 2004, ODOT and Lane Council of Governments predicted WEP would cost $169 million, which ignored Peak Oil impacts on energy and materials costs, the future proposals to "upgrade" 6th and 7th Avenues between WEP and I-105, and the cost to widen Oregon 126 from WEP to Veneta.
Randy Pape is not qualified to be an Oregon Transportation Commissioner if he really thought that the state had "done everything it can to get this project ready for construction" and that "passing 20-54" would approve the project. In reality, ODOT had failed to make many steps needed to complete the Environmental Impact Statement (some remain uncomplete as of November 2005!) and the local election had no impact on approving the final EIS and Record of Decisions from Federal Highway Administration, Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Land Management.
In 1990, ODOT predicted that West 11th traffic would become virtually impassable by 1996 without the WEP. While traffic has increased, it has not gotten to the point that ODOT warned about.
The 1997 Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement predicted that traffic on north-south roads between the WEP and West 11th Avenue would become overloaded, clogging the intersections along the WEP and West 11th.
The WEP was not "ready to go" in November 2001. The propaganda for the project omits any mention of the 1996 lawsuit against Federal Highway Administration, and how FHWA refused to defend the project in court (the Feds knew it was illegal and they would lose).
This flyer from WEP promoters forgot to mention that $17 million was only a small down payment for the project.
In late 2004, ODOT and Lane Council of Governments admitted WEP would cost $169 million. The City of Eugene has also agreed (under Mayor Torrey) to assume responsibility for maintaining the segment east of Beltline to Highway 99.
The money was not there for the Parkway, and local officials knew this when they promoted the project in the November 2001 election.
If Measure 20-54 had included a tax increase for the WEP, it would have lost in a landslide. In May 2000, pro-WEP voters had the opportunity to put their money where their mouths are, but most chose not to. Measure 82, voted on in the May 16, 2000 election, would have enacted a modest increase in the state gas tax to pay for road construction – that referendum failed almost unanimously.
The Parkway vote might resemble the 1992 referendum to close the Trojan nuclear power station near Portland. While the utility won that vote, it closed the nuke two months later because of growing public opposition based in part on escalating costs. Similarly, the developers won the Parkway vote, but the lack of money, legal obstacles, and shifting public opinion will probably lead to the substitution of cheaper, more effective alternatives.
Homeowners at “WEP Ground Zero” near the western terminus were not allowed to vote on Measure 20-54. In addition, many citizens in the River Road / Santa Clara area were also excluded from the vote (they are outside the City of Eugene, although they live inside the UGB in an urbanized area), despite the fact that a major highway project in their neighborhood (Belt Line from River Road to Delta Highway) was “futured” as a consequence of 20-54.
The statements from the proponents bypassed the issues of “logical termini” and “segmentation” that got the WEP into trouble with the FHWA. While it is not reasonable to expect the real estate developers who hope to construct new subdivisions around Fern Ridge reservoir to care about federal laws, Commissioner Papé was probably aware of the process for approving federal-aid highways when he made these statements.
It is curious that WEP proponents such as the Papé brothers and Mayor Torrey pushed so hard for this election even after it was made clear that the highway has massive legal obstacles and the TransPlan highway wish list is seriously over-budget. Perhaps they have a quasi-magical hope that a new referendum will make money flow into the region. This desire for free money resembles the “cargo cults” of the Pacific islands. (The islanders, many of whom lived near Stone Age technology levels, were delighted to have apparent gifts fall from the sky during World War II – detritus from the war – and developed elaborate rituals to ensure additional gifts, gifts that ceased to come after the war ended.)
Perhaps these officials privately understood that the WEP’s prospects are dismal, and merely wanted to stoke anger among their Republican constituents at the “liberals” on the City Council by getting them to “vote against the will of the people.” The disappointment of pro-WEP citizens would be more appropriate to focus upon Jim Torrey, the Papé brothers, and other proponents unwilling to acknowledge fiscal limitations and federal law that make WEP construction unlikely -- their obstructionism has kept the practical solution from being implemented.
Measure 20-53, supposedly an alternative to the WEP, included building two-thirds of the WEP from Danebo to Highway 99.
20-53 was poorly crafted by City bureaucrats who want the WEP. WEP opponents who campaigned against Measure 20-54 (the pro-highway vote) did not endorse this straw man effort, a confused and contradictory measure that would have been even more impossible to implement than the WEP.
Measure 20-53, as depicted by official City of Eugene voter information newsletter. Note the inclusion of the WEP between Seneca Road and Danebo (described as "h" on this map).
WEP to Danebo?
Danebo does not make sense as a “logical terminus” for the project for legal and traffic reasons. This proposal would be more illegal than building the whole thing. Federal law prohibits this segmentation, especially to avoid full disclosure of “impacts” to a Section 4(f) resource (the West Eugene Wetlands).
The 1990 “Approved Design” included an intersection at WEP and Danebo. However, the traffic model showed that intersection would have congestion exceeding “F” (failure, total gridlock). In addition, modeling showed the Belt Line / WEP intersection well beyond “F” (severe congestion) and that a grade-separated interchange would alleviate (and disperse to other WEP intersections with other north-south roads, which then fail instead) some of that congestion to acceptable levels. However, interchange spacing standards prohibit an intersection that close to an interchange’s off and on-ramps, so the 1997 version of the WEP severed the connection between Danebo and Belt Line. That removal makes the Terry Street extension to the WEP more critical for the road’s design – yet the proposed TransPlan amendments do not include this project, listed as “Project 484" in the 1999 Draft TransPlan. (Terry Street to the WEP is not even in the “Future” list.)
The information published about 20-53 and 20-54 did not mention the legal obstacles for building all or part of the WEP, the full costs of the project (more than $88 million, as they had been informed by ODOT regarding the “System Cost” ) or the fact that 20-53 was a straw man option that could never be built.
Measure 20-53 suggested that a “local road” could be built along the WEP “wrong-of-way” should the full project be canceled, but did not describe how a two lane road built through these areas would solve congestion or cause any less environmental havoc than a four lane road. In addition, a two lane road built on the WEP route east of Belt Line would easily be upgraded to a four lane highway, since the majority of the construction cost would be accounted for. (Phase 2 of the WEP – Belt Line to Goble Lane – is divided into two segments. Phase 2A would build a two lane road along this length for about $30 million, and phase 2B would build the other two lanes for about $6 million more.)
The SDEIS ruled out building half of the WEP from Belt Line to Highway 99, claiming it would cause severe congestion on West 11th from Belt Line west to Green Hill (that option is called the “EPA Alternative”), therefore, Measure 20-53 would not be likely to be adopted by ODOT as a selected alternative in a Final EIS.
This option makes “sense” if the only environmental issue is the BLM land between Danebo and Green Hill Roads.
The Federal Highway Administration’s report “The Development of Logical Project Termini” states that a project that forces other road construction without considering the impacts of that other project is illegal segmentation, and therefore a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, which prohibits breaking a large Federal project and breaking it into segments to avoid full disclosure of adverse environmental and/or social impacts. www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/guidebook/vol2/doc12a.pdf
20-53 vote was not a repudiation of “LUTRAQ” or any WEP alternative
The two-to-one vote against 20-53 was not a public repudiation of a non-WEP solution to West Eugene’s land use and transportation problems, but of a poorly written, legally impossible, almost as expensive suggestion. The official propaganda explaining the Measure did not discuss the many technical, legal, environmental and financial reasons for ODOT’s June 2001 “No Build” promise, or the reasons why ODOT backed down from that promise and who in local and state governments made this reversal happen. ODOT director Bruce Warner did not mention that promise during a “City Club” speech in October, 2001 – that decision has disappeared down an Orwellian “memory hole.”
A referendum that honestly explained funding shortfalls, maintenance needs for existing roads and bridges, improved transit, and prevention of future land-use disasters such as the Wal-Mart / Target combo at West 11th and Belt Line would probably pass at the ballot box, especially if the WEP was understood as requiring gas tax increases to fully fund it. Perhaps the election of Mayor Kitty Piercy, a longtime vocal WEP opponent, is confirmation for this view.
The Axle of Evil: Campaign Finance Reform and
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 Papé. Mr. Papé is CEO of the Pape Group, one of the NW's largest bulldozing and heavy equipment companies -- and therefore has a direct financial interest in road construction and sprawl development.
Randy Papé is a Trustee of the Oregon Nature Conservancy, which owns the nearby Willow Creek Preserve (the Nature Conservancy has not made public statements critical of the threats the WEP poses to endangered habitats). He is CEO of the Papé Group, one of the largest construction equipment companies in the Northwest (and presumably, a beneficiary of increased paving projects in west Eugene, whether directly in WEP construction, or indirectly in relation to new development that would sprout like mushrooms in the wake of the WEP). The Pape brothers should recuse themselves from WEP decisions due to their financial interests in road construction.
The Oregon Transportation Commission needs to be diversified so it is not merely a tool of Chambers of Commerce and real estate developers. We need Transportation Commissioners who can reshape ODOT to prioritize transportation projects for finite finances and the need to ensure that the existing road network (especially the bridges) will be maintained as Peak Oil reduces funding for the highway system.www.odot.state.or.us/comm/newscenter/commission.htm