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Council OKs parkway alternative.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

It may not have been pretty, but Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy on Wednesday got what she wanted: City Council support to find an alternative to the West Eugene Parkway.

Councilors voted 5-3 to endorse Piercy's search for something other than the controversial West Eugene Parkway - which would run from Highway 99 to beyond the western city limits - to solve traffic woes on the west side of town.

Eugene's proposal now must go to other local government leaders for approval, as well as the Oregon Department of Transportation, which is in charge of the parkway project.

Piercy said she hopes she'll be able to persuade the other officials to back the city's effort.

"You're just going into this with the belief that if we all sat down at the table and just worked hard enough, we would come up with an alternative that would meet both the transportation needs, wetlands protection needs, and that should serve the interests of everybody," she said.

Councilors also agreed that the collaboration should not take more than 18 months, and they decided to seek $200,000 in federal funds to pay for it.

ODOT wants to finish the proposed parkway's environmental reviews by the end of the year and submit a "build" or "no-build" recommendation to the Federal Highway Administration, which would provide much of money for the parkway.

But the city's proposal asks ODOT to delay submitting its yet-to-be-reached decision to the federal agency until after the collaboration takes place.

An ODOT spokesman on Wednesday said he didn't know if ODOT would agree to that.

"We need to speak with federal highway officials, and we need to talk with Lane County and Springfield" leaders before making such a decision, Joe Harwood said.

The West Eugene Parkway is part of the metro area's long-term transportation plan, which is overseen by the Metropolitan Policy Committee, whose membership includes Eugene, Springfield and Lane County elected officials.

That committee will take up the topic on June 8.

Piercy has been spearheading the new effort to seek alternatives to the parkway.

The idea of a new, collaborative discussion was proposed by consultants who were hired at the request of Eugene and the FHA.

The consultants concluded that Eugene-area residents have the potential to work together to find an alternative to the 5.8-mile parkway.

For the discussion to work, ODOT must be a "willing and active" participant in the search for an alternative, the consultants said. If officials don't search for alternatives, and ODOT simply pursues its current course, the highway project will become mired in lawsuits, the consultants predicted.

Piercy and Councilor David Kelly - Eugene's representatives on the Metropolitan Policy Committee - have clashed with other members of the committee who support building the parkway.

The committee must regularly approve lists of road projects in order for the various governments to have a chance at getting state and federal money for the work.

In prior meetings, Piercy and Kelly have exercised Eugene's veto power by voting against the lists that contained the metro area's road projects, as long as the lists also included the West Eugene Parkway.

But on Wednesday, Eugene officials announced a new strategy. Piercy and Kelly will endorse the metro area's road project lists as long as construction money for the West Eugene Parkway is pushed back to 2009, after the search for an alternative to the parkway search is completed.

"This is not the perfect plan, but I do submit that it's the only reasonable plan," Kelly said.

However, Councilors Betty Taylor, Bonny Bettman and Gary Pape voted against the proposal.

Bettman said she had questions about the search for alternatives to the parkway, and she didn't feel comfortable endorsing the proposal until they were answered.

Pape noted that voters in 2000 rejected studying parkway alternatives, so he couldn't support the new effort unless voters were asked again.

But Piercy's proposal got support from councilors who support the parkway, such as George Poling and Jennifer Solomon, and others like Kelly and Andrea Ortiz, who oppose the roadway. Councilor Chris Pryor also voted for the proposal.

Poling offered his support after he persuaded councilors to limit the length of the search for alternatives to 18 months and the cost to no more than $200,000. "This process could go on to 3005 if we don't put our foot down," Poling said.

Afterward, Piercy said she would have preferred to get a more decisive vote from the council. But she was glad to get support from both liberal and conservative councilors.

"Those councilors who supported it were a mix of both portions of the council, which is a good thing," she said.
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Title Annotation:Government; The mayor's drive to find an option in lieu of the West Eugene Parkway wins support for a collaborative effort
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 25, 2006
Words:780
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