New parkway: Ecological disaster or economic necessity?
Opponents of the West Eugene Parkway call it a boondoggle - they say it's unnecessary, too costly, would devastate rare wetlands and would contribute to urban sprawl.
They're wrong. Not building this long-needed project has already caused great economic harm and sprawl, and the damage will continue until the parkway is completed.
An east/west limited-access road through west Eugene has been planned since the 1950s. In 1960, the Roosevelt Freeway was conceived to connect Interstate 5 with Oregon Route 126 through west Eugene. Only the Interstate 105 segment from I-5 to Sixth and Seventh avenues was built, and that was to be a `temporary' link to Washington and Jefferson streets.
With the development of Valley River Center in the late 1960s, changing community attitudes and the adoption of the T200 transportation plan in 1978, the Roosevelt Freeway was replaced by a new corridor in the alignment of Sixth and Seventh avenues (the first concept of the West Eugene Parkway).
In 1983, the Transportation Technical Advisory Committee determined that the project should extend from the Oak Hill vicinity at the west end to Garfield Street on the east end. On Nov. 4, 1986, the voters approved the pursuit of the parkway.
In 1987, a biologist hired by the city identified nearly 1,500 acres of wetlands in west Eugene, more than a third of which had been designated for industrial development. Most of this acreage had been disturbed by agricultural activity. The Willamette Valley once had an estimated 360,000 acres of wetland prairie, which by 1985 had dwindled to about 13,000 acres.
The West Eugene Wetland Plan, approved by the city and Lane County in 1992 and by state and federal agencies in 1994, suggests that out of west Eugene's 1,278 acres of wetlands, 1,019 be restored and protected, while 259 be designated for development.
Since Eugene contains about 1 percent of the Willamette Valley's land, is it fair for the city to bear the cost of preserving 10 percent of the valley's remaining wetlands prairie? The urban growth boundary was not adjusted to make up for this loss of developable acreage. This limited land supply is already contributing to sprawl by moving growth to Veneta, Elmira, Junction City, Cottage Grove, etc. This growth is overloading the highway system, and in the future, getting people to their jobs in the metropolitan area will require spending more public money. The community needs the West Eugene Parkway now.
While opponents continue to assert there are better, faster, cheaper alternatives, they have yet to come forward with a feasible alternative that achieves the parkway's purposes, does not waste the millions of dollars already spent or delay construction an additional 10 years. Their rhetoric about a new project that solves traffic problems while protecting every piece of wetlands is intellectually dishonest; it is known that there are no other corridors available that do not impact wetlands. The parkway route, paralleling the railroad built on a dike in 1914, has the least impact on wetlands.
Less than a mile of the parkway route would involve actually filling wetlands designated for protection in the West Eugene Wetlands plan. In addition, the wetlands already consist of several discrete areas, each ecologically distinct or undergoing restoration - so much for fragmentation. We've seen that wetlands can thrive next to existing major transportation facilities, some of which carry more vehicles than are projected for the parkway.
Supporters of the parkway have been depicted as developers who stand to gain from the project. But the parkway will be access-controlled, with connection points only at major intersections, and the land fronting most of the western portion is publicly owned. In what way, then, could the parkway benefit landowners?
None of what opponents offer is better, faster or cheaper than the parkway. Giving up $17 million earmarked for the project for some unknown, ineffective alternative would be unconscionable.
With only a mile of the entire 5.8-mile project affecting wetlands originally designated for protection, and with two to three acres of new wetland replacing each one that is disturbed, the parkway cannot be characterized as devastating a rare national treasure.
The community's work toward restoring and showcasing wetlands, while constructing the parkway in an environmentally sensitive way, deserves to be showcased and recognized.
Every person who depends on transportation through west Eugene needs to send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org expressing support for the West Eugene Parkway. Otherwise, the opposition will win by default.
Larry Reed is a principal with JRH Transportation Engineering.