Interchange fix looks OK.
When it comes to transportation projects - especially major transportation projects - unanimity is a rarely achieved result. But last Thursday's unanimous vote of approval for redesigning the Interstate 5 and Belt Line Road interchange and for a new Belt Line/Gateway Street intersection is a welcome sign that most of the concerns surrounding the two projects have been adequately addressed.
Yes, there are still some folks who question whether the projects' estimated $122 million cost will delay or halt other transportation needs of the Eugene-Springfield area, and whether the presence of PeaceHealth's planned new $350 million regional medical facility in the Gateway area - and the trips to and from that facility - will adversely affect the hoped-for efficiency of the projects and require expanding the metropolitan area's urban growth boundary. And there are no doubt some anti-car folks who simply don't want to see anything built that would encourage more vehicular use in the local area.
Those objections aside, an impartial analysis of, especially, the I-5/Belt Line interchange must lead to the conclusion that a safer, more efficient interchange is needed. The existing interchange is, to say the least, a challenge - and a potentially dangerous challenge at that.
The proposed new design should alleviate most of the present problems at the interchange. The design includes the construction of a "flyover" ramp to connect northbound I-5 traffic to westbound Belt Line, improvement of the northbound I-5 off-ramp and the addition of a traffic signal, the straightening of the southbound I-5 off-ramp to Belt Line, the construction of a pedestrian-bicycle bridge to connect the Harlow Road neighborhood with the Gateway Mall, and - the deal-clinchers - the construction of sound walls along the south side of Belt Line and the west side of I-5 to protect Harlow area residents and an agreement that Gateway area businesses and residents will have a say in how the proposed new Belt Line/Gateway intersection will be designed.
While it took more than two years for state and federal transportation officials and representatives of Eugene, Springfield and Lane County to reach agreement on the interchange and intersection projects, no one should expect to see concrete being torn out any time soon. The two projects - with the I-5/Belt Line interchange coming first - won't begin until 2006 and the final phase isn't scheduled until 2023 or thereabouts.
In addition, there's the not-so-minor matter of funding for the projects. The sale of revenue bonds under the Oregon Transportation Investment Act will supply $18 million to get the projects off the ground. But the remainder of the money has yet to be appropriated at the state and federal levels, or raised through private donations. Finding the sources of that money should be a top priority of local, state and federal officials.
For now, however, the residents of Eugene and Springfield, as well as drivers who have weaved in and around the existing inadequate intersections, should applaud the hard work that, at long last, led to consensus and common ground on these needed projects.
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|Title Annotation:||Unanimous agreement on project a good sign; Editorials|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Nov 19, 2002|
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