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Parkway project sits at crossroad.

Byline: Edward Russo The Register-Guard

The federal agency that will play a key role in the fate of the West Eugene Parkway is willing to hear new ideas the public may have about an alternative to the long-controversial road project. Parkway opponents, however, shouldn't break into a victory dance just yet.

At the request of Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, the Federal Highway Administration has endorsed the idea of a community discussion to explore possible alternatives to the parkway, said David Cox, the agency's Oregon administrator.

"We hope to learn from the public," he said Wednesday. "This could be anything from outright errors we have made, to new information we didn't know existed, to a new perspective we hadn't considered."

Piercy hopes consultants trained to help people reach agreement can help area leaders and residents next year develop a compromise proposal to the parkway.

First proposed in 1985, the parkway would be a 5.8-mile, four-lane highway meant to move traffic more speedily from Highway 126 west of Green Hill Road through west Eugene to Interstate 105 and Interstate 5.

The road has been opposed by residents who say it would harm the west Eugene wetlands, and siphon money from more important road projects. Yet voters have twice approved the roadway, and rejected a study of alternatives.

Piercy, who opposed the parkway in her campaign for mayor, failed last month to persuade area leaders to drop the parkway from a funding list. She has spent the past several days lobbying the same leaders on the alternative study effort.

Piercy planned to formally ask the leaders from Spring- field, Lane County, the Lane Transit District and the Oregon Department of Transportation, all of which will be meeting today as the Metropolitan Policy Committee in Springfield, to endorse the idea.

"My goal is to resolve those traffic issues, connect those federal highways and protect our wetlands in a way that will move us beyond community impasse," she said.

The Federal Highway Administration, in collaboration with two other federal agencies, next year plans to determine if the environmental studies that have been done for the roadway comply with federal law. If so, the federal agency could issue a recommendation to build, something that the ODOT needs to start construction.

Cox said a community discussion about alternatives to the parkway could take place even if the leaders from other local governments refuse to endorse it.

And if the community discussion wanted by Piercy leads to a proposal other than the parkway, officials said, it's unclear how that would affect the environmental review under way and the proposed roadway's fate.

Much depends on the idea or ideas and whether they had been previously studied and rejected by engineers.

"We are seeking to engage the public," said Elton Chang, the Salem-based environmental coordinator for the Federal Highway Administration. "However, we are not going to chase our tail."

An alternative must fit the parkway's "purpose and need." Besides moving traffic more efficiently to the I-5/I-105 corridor, the road is supposed to better link west Eugene neighborhoods with downtown, plus relieve congestion and improve safety on West 11th Avenue.

"We would need to determine if (an alternative) was feasible," Chang said.

After years of delay, ODOT officials are eager for a final decision.

ODOT spokesman Lou Torres said officials are willing to consider Piercy's proposal, but that they don't want a search for alternatives to drag things out indefinitely.

"We are trying to be a cooperating partner with the city," he said. "We are trying to listen and work through this process as much as we can, but we do have an obligation to complete the environmental (study) process and get to a record of decision."

Opponents and supporters of the parkway are expected to attend today's meeting of the Metropolitan Policy Committee, which starts at 11:30 a.m. in Springfield City Hall, 225 Fifth St.

Rob Zako, transportation advocate for 1000 Friends of Oregon, which opposes the parkway, said the news about the Federal Highway Administration's willingness to discuss alternatives is encouraging.

"It is good when people come together to solve problems, base their efforts on facts rather than emotions, and look for creative win-win solutions," he said.

Dave Hauser, president of the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce, which supports the parkway, said that "on the surface, at least," Piercy's proposal appears to be worth consid- ering.

"It might be helpful to avoid the impasse if it moves this debate forward," he said.
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Title Annotation:Government; At Mayor Piercy's request, the highway administration backs the idea of a community discussion to explore alternatives
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Dec 8, 2005
Words:747
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