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Belt Line overpass financing uncertain.

Byline: DAVID STEVES The Register-Guard

CORRECTION (ran 5/19/02): The proposed "flyover" overpass at the Belt Line Road interchange with Intestate 5 would not displace a mobile home park. Because of incorrect testimony before the state Transportation Commission, this information was inaccurately reported in Wednesday's newspaper.

SALEM - The long-awaited overhaul to the Belt Line Road-Interstate 5 interchange hit a roadblock Tuesday when members of the Oregon Transportation Commission chastised area officials for not putting enough local money on the table and for failing to adequately involve citizens in decision-making.

Commissioners rebuffed local leaders' request for $17 million in state money to build the project's second phase - a "flyover" overpass meant to increase safety and ease congestion at the interchange, which is becoming increasingly jammed with freeway and cross-town traffic.

Members of the state panel said Eugene, Springfield and Lane County would have to come up with $15 million of the total $22 million cost of the project's second phase - not the $5 million in local matching dollars that local officials had proposed.

Commissioners also said advocates of the Belt Line/I-5 project must come up with a plan that better reflects public sentiment at the panel's June or July meeting.

Lane County Commissioner Bobby Green, who testified at the commission's Salem meeting, said afterward that Tuesday's development shouldn't jeopardize the project.

"I would say it's another hurdle. It isn't a setback," he said.

Springfield Mayor Sid Leiken said it was possible the $15 million match could be secured. Already, U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, a Springfield Democrat, had agreed to seek as much as $5 million through Congress, and PeaceHealth, which is planning to move its hospital from Eugene to Springfield's Gateway area, has committed $7 million for road improvements that could be used for the interchange, Leiken said.

The worst-case scenario if the state refuses to appropriate money at this time, Leiken said, is that local officials will revert to their earlier strategy: seek help from Oregon's congressional delegation for a bigger chunk of federal funding and wait until future state transportation money becomes available.

The interchange was designed to accommodate about 40,000 vehicles a day but is now congested with 90,000 vehicles, Springfield Transportation Manager Nick Arnis said. Traffic is expected to keep increasing as commercial and industrial development continues along Eugene's Coburg Road and in Springfield's Gateway area.

A group of Eugene land use and growth watchdogs urged the Transportation Commission to put funding for the project on hold, saying that political leaders have been pushing the Belt Line/I-5 changes without fully seeking citizen input.

Rob Zako, a former chairman of Friends of Eugene, warned the commission that approving the $17 million for phase 2 of the project `would send the message that good land use and transportation planning does not matter and that a big developer with deep pockets can move directly to `go' without suffering an open public process.'

The flyover freeway on-ramp would displace some Springfield businesses and a mobile home park just east of Interstate 5, Zako said. It also would bring more pressure to push development beyond the urban growth boundary, he said.

Becky Steckler, a former Friends of Eugene leader who testified against the project, said such concerns have not been given full consideration by local officials because they followed a process that "has had more of a feeling of backroom deal-making than true public involvement and planning rationality."

She said the Belt Line interchange, the West Eugene Parkway and other local projects have been pushed at the expense of transportation work to improve the safety and liveability of existing neighborhoods and established business districts.

Green down-played such criticism.

"What you heard today, in my opinion, is really the result of a failed vote by opponents of the West Eugene Parkway," he said, referring to voters' narrow approval last November of a measure calling for construction of the road, which is opposed by Friends of Eugene.

However, Transportation Commissioner Stuart Foster said the complaints about Lane County's transportation planning process should be taken seriously.

"It doesn't look to me like it's very inclusive, and it makes Eugene and Springfield and the rest of Lane County extremely vulnerable to the kind of testimony we heard today," he said. "I'm deeply concerned about the process - or the lack of a process - that is going on down there."

Green defended the local process, saying citizens, business groups and others can participate through public testimony and serving in advisory roles to the Metropolitan Planning Commission, which makes formal decisions on transportation plans that go to the state. But transportation commissioners said the process should follow systems used elsewhere in the state, in which citizen and business representatives serve as voting members on such panels.

The Transportation Commission is considering how to dole out $50 million in bonds that are being financed through fee increases approved by the 2001 Legislature. Initially, the state planned to spend $400 million in bonds, but the additional $50 million became available this year when legislators at a special session increased the agency's bonding authority.

From that first round of bonding, $18 million already has been committed to the first phase of the Belt Line/I-5 project, which is expected to undergo construction in 2005 or 2006. That phase will include an auxiliary lane for Belt Line from the Coburg Road interchange, a bicycle and pedestrian crossing over I-5 and an added exit-only "collector lane" on I-5 southbound leading to the Belt Line exit.

Oregon's Region 2 - which runs from Lane County north to Clatsop County, excluding the Tri-County region of Portland - is set to receive $16 million to $17 million from that $50 million pot.

Rather than sink all that money into the Belt Line/I-5 project, several of the five transportation commissioners Tuesday expressed a preference for an alternative that followed what they called a "peanut butter approach:" spread the money around the region on an array of smaller projects. This alternative plan calls for $16 million of state money to be spent on 10 projects ranging from a $3.8 million bridge renovation in Seaside to the widening of a highway with added curbs, gutters and bike paths along the Santiam Highway in Sweet Home for $705,000.

NEXT STEP

Springfield, Eugene and Lane County officials must identify $15 million in local funding for the $22 million Belt Line/I-5 project's phase two. The issue will next come up at the Oregon Transportation Commission in June or July.
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Title Annotation:Roads: A state panel spurns a $17 million request to build the second phase.; Politics
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 15, 2002
Words:1084
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